Question: Why is it that boy-centered coming of age stories always get cool themes, and girl-centered ones almost always are stuck being dramas?
Seriously, think about it. For guys, a coming of age tale usually features some best friends who learn to stick together through thick and thin, an adventure facing some monster or at the very least some type of monstrous danger, and then the courage to get the girl evolves from that whole experience.
Meanwhile, the typical girl coming of age tale ends up being:
- friends seem like best friends but are actually psychos who will stab you in the back,
- feeling like shit until a guy notices them/proves himself by defending them,
- a lot of talk about being too fat, too skinny, or otherwise imperfect, and
- after all the angst and romance, even more angst and romance.
Look, I get it. Guys and girls go through very different things while growing up. But it seems like the growing up stories for guys get to have something cool going on and the growth develops from that, while the girls get nothing except a lot of drama.
Unfortunately, this is what I experienced when reading Broken Things.
This book initially seemed like it had it all. The cover: major goals! One of the best I’ve seen this year. The premise: two girls supposedly murdered their best friend in a ritualistic killing when they were teens. Even though charges never got anywhere, their lives have essentially derailed. Now, five years later at eighteen, they have to join forces again to find the real killer and put their pasts behind them, especially because the story that they were all obsessed with -the one that supposedly inspired the real killing- was something that actually came true for them as kids, and they need to put it back where it came from.
Damn! What a premise! The first page is filled with promise, too, starting with a bang right from the get-go:
Five years ago, when I had just turned thirteen, I killed my best friend.
I chased her down and cracked her over the head with a rock. Then I dragged her body out of the woods and into a field and arranged it in the center of a circle of stones I’d placed there with my other friend, Mia. Then we knifed her twice in the throat, and five times in the chest. Mia was planning to douse her body with gasoline and light her on fire, but something went wrong and we bolted. …
The monsters of Brickhouse Lane.
The child killers.
That’s the way everyone tells it, at least, a story repeated so many times, accepted by so many people, it has become fact.
Never mind that the case against Mia and me never even made it out of family court. Try as they could, the cops couldn’t make the facts fit. … Never mind, either, that we didn’t do it. (4-6).
This book definitely wastes no time setting up the premise of these characters’ lives and their dilemmas. I was intrigued, to say the least.
Unfortunately, chapter one is as good as it gets.
So the two girls who supposedly carried out this Slender Man stabbing (oh come on, if you weren’t thinking of that case then you are either lying or living under a rock!) are Mia and Brynn. Their friend Summer, the one who ends up murdered, was obsessed with a book called The Way Into Lovehorn and she got all of them into it, too. So much so that they were even writing a fanfic about it. The murder of Summer was described in said fanfic, which makes it seem even creepier that it actually happened, right? You want to keep reading, riiiiight?
Well, I’ve given you the good. Now it’s time for the bad and the ugly.
Mia is a tolerable character, but she has a friend, Abby, who is a plus size internet model and I just don’t understand why she’s in this book at all. She literally does nothing except overshadow Mia the entire time.
Brynn, the other girl, is just an absolutely horrid character. I’m sorry, but I have no other way of putting it. She has no motivation except to get back into rehab so that she doesn’t have to face the concept of actually living her life, and she’s just…. bleh. I don’t feel like she really develops at all unless she’s forced, and she’s really annoying. She’s a cliche of what every kid thinks they are after they’ve shopped at Hot Topic for the first time: edgy, dangerous, angry at society, and so very different that no one could ever truly get them.
Then there’s Summer.
Ugggggg. This bitch, y’all.
Look, girls oftentimes form friendships that border on weird obsession when they’re young. I get it. I was there. But there is literally no reason why Brynn and Mia would have been friends with this girl. Yes, she was abused in the past, which makes us feel for her, but she is also rude, cruel, manipulative, and many people say they are outright afraid of her, including Brynn and Mia. Summer knows that Mia has been in love with a boy named Owen for a long time, and yet she starts dating Owen for no real reason other than to hurt Mia. (Though for the record, Owen also gives no reason as to why he dated Summer even though he was “always in love” with Mia, so he’s in the doghouse too at this point). Summer is the one who gets them all into the Lovehorn book, then says she doesn’t want to play-pretend Lovehorn adventures anymore, but then gets angry when Brynn and Mia won’t help her actually sacrifice a cat (yes, SACRIFICE A CAT) to the fictional character the Shadow.
Summer has no motivation, no development or reason, and ultimately gave me no reason to even give a half a shit that she died.
But at least there’s the supernatural edge that’s promised by the tagline, right? I mean, it says right on the cover:
We thought it was just a story….
until it came true.
And the girls constantly say things like “The first time we went to Lovehorn….” So I started thinking that maybe these girls were all pretend playing at their game, and then they opened the door to evil Narnia, and now all these years later they need to put it back and discover the true meaning of friendship and of having confidence in themselves. That would be epic!
But you know what? Nope. “Lovehorn” is not a place that they go to. It’s just…. *drumroll please* ….a clubhouse that they all used to hang out in. Used to be a boring old shed, and then one day someone mysteriously put some old wallpaper inside it and hung up a sign that said “Welcome to Lovehorn!” in there, and that’s what they mean when they say they went to the other world.
Come on now. You promised me fantasty and supernatural elements when you said that this book came true to these girls. Now you’re telling me it was only true in their imaginations? LIAR.
From there on, it just gets worse. We spend all of our time with these unlikeable characters having awkward conversations about self-love while the issue of, y’know, actually clearing their damn names takes a back seat. The adventure is stiff, the characters don’t develop, and it’s just overall icky and bleh. Once I realized that there was nothing except for these angry teens riding around together in a car, bitching about teen things and being 100% ruled by their hormones, the only reason I stuck around was to find out who the murderer was and what their motivation could possibly be.
Fun fact that I’ve learned from years of reading: when you have less than 40 pages to go in an almost 400 page book and the confrontation with the big bad has not yet occurred, you are almost always in for a finale that is unexplained, lukewarm, and leaves you feeling overall like you just bit into something that you thought was cooked but is still cold and mushy in the middle: disappointed and thinking of all the other amazing things you could have had instead.
That was my feeling with the end of this novel. I’m not going to reveal who the murderer was, because spoilery spoilers, but I was rolling my eyes at the big reveal. I personally think it sucked. There is no other term for it. Big Bad had zip motivation, which made me care exactly zip about the reveal. It’s been a few days since I read it and I have thought it over, and I still don’t understand it. This was the dumbest solution to a murder ever and one of the laziest attempts I’ve seen recently from an author trying to solve everything with a half-assed explanation.
Was the writing style bad? No, not at all. And the cover was excellent. But overall, I did not find those things to be enough to make up for the fact that I was promised a potentially supernatural murder mystery and was given a bunch of angry teenagers riding around in a car, complaining about their love lives, hating on each other, then having super awkward kisses and conversations in stilted dialogue about what it means to accept yourself.
And this is what passes a girl’s coming of age story?
I’ll go reread The Hazel Wood instead, thanks.
2 of 5 stars. The edition I read was an advance reader copy, not a finalized edition.