Beautiful Broken Things by Sara Barnard

Received from NetGalley for review.

I’m very torn with this book; I really have no idea if I liked it or disliked it as I’ve got so many conflicting feelings about it. On the one hand, it’s a realistic portrayal of teenage friendships – the intensity of feelings and the strange politics of teenage girls – and it highlights the issues of mental illness and how people deal with it. On the other hand, though, nearly every character was unlikable for some reason, and it was so frustrating to read about the botched handling of a very vulnerable teenager with mental illness. Three stars will have to be the middle ground for me, although I’m not sure ‘I liked it’ is the right label to give this book. Now, to try muddle through my feelings.

Beautiful Broken Things is a British young adult story, set in Brighton, that centres on the friendship of three teenage girls (all around fifteen/sixteen) – Caddy, Rosie, and Suzanne. Caddy and Rosie have been best friends forever, managing to make it through being at completely different schools and having rather different personalities – Caddy being shy and sensible, and Rosie being sarcastic and blunt. Then along comes Suzanne, beautiful and tragic Suzanne who has a genuinely sad story, and everything changes. Caddy becomes unhealthily wrapped up in Suzanne because she sees her as everything she believes she isn’t – gorgeous, interesting, and brave – whilst also wanting to ‘fix’ her.

The story is told from Caddy’s perspective, and she is such a brat. She feels like nothing interesting has happened in her life because it has been free from tragedy – she compares herself to her sister Tarin, who is bipolar, and best friend Rosie, whose father left and whose baby sister died from cot death. Just, WHAT?! Tragedy does not make you interesting or edgy, it fucking sucks, and only a privileged, entitled, and immature idiot would believe that it does. Caddy is such an annoying character because of this. She has no idea what it is like to suffer and doesn’t realise how lucky she is, but I suppose that’s a people thing, especially when you’re younger – always wanting what you don’t have, always wishing for something different. Realistic, yet incredibly annoying.

The other characters aren’t much better. Rosie has a terrible tendency for judgemental slut shaming but at least she can see how toxic the friendship with Suzanne becomes – she loves Caddy and wants to protect her from the bad influence Suzanne is having (although I don’t think Suzanne is intentionally trying to hurt Caddy in any way). Suzanne is incredibly vulnerable and damaged – she has left an abusive home to live with her aunt, but neither of them copes well with the change. It’s obvious that Suzanne is struggling and dealing with mental illness, which negatively affects her behaviour, and it just made me really sad how badly everyone dealt with it, especially the adults. She doesn’t get the help she needs and things become progressively worse for her. She was definitely the most sympathetic character, although her selfish and self-destructive behaviour was frustrating at times – mental illness doesn’t give you a free pass to be a dick to everyone.

Mostly I think this book made me deeply sad. Suzanne needs helps and she isn’t getting it, and the people around her just make it worse – every single adult is useless at trying to help her, and Caddy enables toxic behaviours because she thinks she’s helping. It’s incredibly frustrating to read, especially when you are aware that what needs to be done in that situation isn’t being done. I liked the realism, though – the intense teenage relationships, and the difficulties of being ill and not getting the help you need. The intent behind the book was good, just not as well executed as I would have liked and I think that’s because the story is told from Caddy’s perspective – telling the story from Suzanne’s perspective would have been more effective in exploring mental illness, but I think the author has portrayed the situation quite realistically.

Read: February 1st-5th 2016

3/5 stars


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