Author: Sara Barnard
Publish Date: 11 February 2016
Genre: Realism, friendship
Audience: Young adult
(N.B. This book deals with heavy and potentially upsetting issues such as child abuse, mental illness, and suicidal thoughts)
I have been longing to read this book for almost a year now – and yes, I am ashamed to say it is partly because of the beautiful cover. I had heard that ‘Beautiful Broken Things’ had been particularly commended for its focus on teenage friendships, and it’s always a topic which I am keen to see in YA, so I was excited to give it a read.
‘Beautiful Broken Things’ follows best friends Caddy and Rosie, and how new girl Suzanne fits into their deep-rooted friendship. Caddy is longing for a Significant Life Event to come along, whilst reckless Suzanne is trying to escape her past – a combination which does not mix well for either of them.
What stood out to me the most in ‘Beautiful Broken Things’ is Barnard’s handling of the sensitive issues at hand. To Caddy and Rosie, Suzanne appears to be the stereotypical, perfect blonde, until quite quickly they learn that deep-rooted in her past are the issues of child abuse and mental illness; as a result, Suzanne becomes an incredibly realistic character in that you never know what may be hiding under a facade. The treatment of her mental health issues is extremely lifelike, and particularly towards the end, there are conversations she has with Caddy which I have had in real life with friends. Thus, I was very much drawn to the character of Suzanne, and her story line evoked truly deep emotion from me. It was clear to see her evolving destruction throughout the novel, and she was by far the most interesting and genuine aspect of the story.
Barnard’s writing is also to be commended – ‘Beautiful Broken Things’ is certainly an addictive read with an easy writing style, which is certainly appreciated in light of the heavy topics being tackled. Heavy on the dialogue, the novel translates a brilliant three-way friendship filled with an intense love which is often missing from YA novels, but also a hidden yet earnest sense of jealousy and rivalry which comes from the addition of Suzanne into Caddy and Rosie’s concrete friendship.
However, despite there being an obvious focus on the theme of friendship, I found the characters of Caddy and Rosie to be rather dull and not relatable in the slightest. It could be argued that this is somewhat a message in the novel, as Caddy longs to experience a Significant Life Event which makes her different, but there was no real or obvious conclusion to this subplot. In addition, the way that this topic is handled is, at times, slightly problematic. Near the beginning of the novel, Caddy actually expresses her jealousy at her sister’s mental illness and the death of her best friend’s sister, as they have had something significant happen in their life and she hasn’t. I couldn’t shake this off the image that I had of her character, as it is quite frankly a disgusting thing to wish upon yourself! Alongside this, the character of Rosie was frequently absent from the novel, and yet when she was present, she was either complaining, or slut shaming her friends – as you might guess, I did not get along with her character whatsoever.
In addition, I felt that ‘Beautiful Broken Things’ had a significant lack of direction. For the first three quarters of the novel, there was no real plot direction, and I found it to be a little repetitive and boring at times – Suzanne encouraged Caddy to go outside her comfort zone, Caddy agreed, and then Caddy got into trouble, a structure which repeated numerous times in the novel. Also, despite the novel being from Caddy’s narrative, I was never sure whether we were following Caddy’s story or Suzanne’s. After reading the authors note at the end, I understand that Barnard was attempting to create a novel which showed the effects a destructive person could implement on their friend, which is certainly commendable and something which she did achieve. However, despite them being intrinsically linked, the plot of Caddy’s life goals felt sort of lost, and I think a novel solely focused on Suzanne would have achieved a much better structure.
In summary, I did enjoy ‘Beautiful Broken Things’. The overall messages surrounding both mental health and friendship are extremely important, and are dealt with appropriately – we need a lot more YA novels which deal with and focus on these topics in the same way which Sara Barnard does. However, the lack of a direction in the plot until the very end made the story slightly repetitive, as did the lack lustre and predictable characters of Caddy and Rosie. Overall, however, I would still recommend giving ‘Beautiful Broken Things’ a read in order to gain a genuine and realistic portrayal of mental illness and teenage friendships, and if anything just to experience the beautiful character that is Suzanne.