Publication Date: April 24, 2012
Type: E-galley from publisher, via NetGalley
Allie lost everything the night her boyfriend, Trip, died in a horrible car accident—including her memory of the event. As their small town mourns his death, Allie is afraid to remember because doing so means delving into what she’s kept hidden for so long: the horrible reality of their abusive relationship.
When the police reopen the investigation, it casts suspicion on Allie and her best friend, Blake, especially as their budding romance raises eyebrows around town. Allie knows she must tell the truth. Can she reach deep enough to remember that night so she can finally break free? Debut writer Jennifer Shaw Wolf takes readers on an emotional ride through the murky waters of love, shame, and, ultimately, forgiveness.
There are a lot of books about loss out there. A novel about a broken protagonist and their struggles to cope with the death of someone close to them, be it a sister, a parent, or a boyfriend/girlfriend.
However, there are not many--or, I should say, I have not seen many--about the loss of someone they should care for, someone whom they're expected to care for, but who's hurt them so much that their death is almost a relief.
That, I think, was this novel's strongest point. Allie's grief and confusion, the emptiness of losing the person who'd been her whole life mixed with relief that it was finally over and guilt over that relief--all of her emotions were done perfectly. And they were done in such a way that I truly . . . understood her.
Allie makes a lot of stupid decisions. Stupid decisions that hurt herself, and those she cares about. Mainly herself. And sometimes you might just want to shake her, tell her This is your life, girl. Sometimes you might wonder how she could possibly be so completely miserable for such a long time. Sometimes you might wonder why she didn't do something.
But I understood her. I understood her, and every awful thing she'd suffered through. I understood the misery she'd endured for three solid years, and the terror of that one night her mind refused to recall. I understood her fear, the everpresent sadness, her hesitation. I understood Allie. And that, in the end, is what mattered. I didn't need her to be witty, or clever, or strong. I didn't need her to be that girl who endures. I just needed to know why. And, thanks to all the emotions woven beautifully throughout this story, I did.
Aside from Allie and her inner feelings, there was one thing that I really adored about this novel: the relationships. Particularly, the familial ones, and the romantic ones.
In so many YA novels today, one finds a disturbing case of Disappearing Parent Syndrome. They're an orphan, the 'rents are on vacation, they're in rehab, they don't care. Whatever the case, the MC is allowed to roam free, no rules, no restrictions, no consequences. Often no siblings to muck up our protagonist's plans.
But in Breaking Beautiful, family plays a crucial role. Wolf never lets us forget that Allie's mom, her dad, her twin brother Andrew, they exist, and they still have a constant influence on her life. Sometimes it's positive, other times it's not. Sometimes there are moments where you can see just how much they care, and sometimes you want to shake them 'till their teeth rattle. But isn't that family?
And then, Allie and Blake's relationship. Quite simply, I loved it. Despite how completely and horribly fucked up their entire situation happened to be, these two had one of the loveliest, healthiest relationships I've read in a while. They've known each other since they were four and five. They don't stalk, don't linger on each other's every facial feature. Don't make dramatic declarations of love and "I'll fight for you forever"s. They know each other; they talk to each other; they're there for each other. And slowly, they fall. When the "I love you" comes, it's simple and not as he'd intended, as these things often are.
Relationships like that remind me that there are still people who understand teenage relationships, or relationships in general. They're just hiding.
Despite the brilliance of Allie's emotions and her interactions with others, there was one thing that constantly irritated me: flat characters. Now, don't get me wrong; there were many beautifully fleshed out characters, ones that I absolutely adored. Allie's mom and dad, Andrew, Caitlyn, even Detective Weeks. Even Trip, in his own awful, messed up way. But a few characters were living stereotypes, or just flatly bad. Hannah and her cronies, Mr. Phillips. I simply wish they'd been given a bit more depth.
All in all, I thought this was a really fantastic book. While it is, in many ways, a very draining read, it also keeps the reader on the edge of their seat--I told myself I'd only read half of it today, and here I am at the end. I can't quite give this a 5, but I'd say it's somewhere between a 4.25 and 4.5. (I'm getting rather precise, aren't I?)
**An additional note, for explanatory purposes. I know this is one of several recent reads that I rated over 4 stars and gave the 4-star rating to despite that. However, the best I can explain it is that these didn't feel like five stars. I thoroughly enjoyed them, I thought they were wonderful, but . . . not quite that level of oh-my-fucking-god. I don't rate my books according to a precise system; I rate them according to what I feel. If a book earns four stars despite a higher rating, that means I really enjoyed it, but not quite enough to give it that perfect rating.