REVIEW: Breaking Beautiful by Jennifer Shaw Wolf

Breaking Beautiful by Jennifer Shaw Wolf
Walker Children’s Books, 2012
[Goodreads] [Amazon]

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?

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Breaking  Beautiful was the first book dealing with abusive relationships that I’ve read. The subject matter always made me leery, because it could so easily be done incorrectly. But I liked the fact that this book involved a mystery: Allie’s boyfriend, Trip, is dead, and Allie can’t remember what happened that night. She is automatically looked at with suspicion because she survived and he did not. It doesn’t help that Trip is seen as a perfect boyfriend, and was extremely popular in their small town. (It also doesn’t help that his father is loaded and single-handedly brought tourism back to the town, rejuvenating it.) But the reader – and Allie – are aware of the darker side of Trip: the fact that, when he got angry – which was quite often – he’d take that anger out on Allie. Allie is afraid to say anything, though, because she doesn’t want people to know what Trip did, mostly because she fears that they’d never believe her (and that it would just make her look even more guilty regarding his death). Allie spends much of this book afraid: afraid to remember, afraid to tell anyone the truth, afraid of what others think about her. The book encompasses Allie’s journey as she tries to move on, and also her growth as a character.

One other thing I loved about this book was Allie’s relationship with her twin brother, Andrew, who has cerebral palsy and is confined to a wheelchair. Allie tries so had to protect Andrew, because she feels like he isn’t as strong as she is, but in truth it was Andrew who was the strongest character in the story. I loved seeing their little talks, the flashbacks to when he tried to help her with Trip, and just their little day-to-day conversations and the way they lived their lives and interacted with each other. This was a really great sibling relationship, and was probably one of the strengths of the book. I also thoroughly enjoyed Blake, and the way we got to see what his and Allie’s relationship looked like prior to her meeting Trip. I also loved the fact that, to Blake, Andrew was just another person and wasn’t anything strange or different because of his disability (and I ADORED Caitlyn, the girl Andrew starts dating during the book). Blake was such a great character: fully developed, with interesting an interesting back story, who’s dealing with a number of things that no one knows about. He’s aware of what others think about him, and doesn’t care. The only person he cares about is Allie, and I give him so much credit for never giving up on her, even when she treated him horribly. I liked the slow development of his relationship with her, his little insights into what she’s thinking, and how he just really cared about her from the very beginning. Their relationship was so well-developed that by the time they were “together” it was just perfect, including Allie’s insecurities and worries about what the relationship might imply to others.

The abuse was dealt with in a really realistic way: you see the flashbacks to what Trip did to Allie (aside from the accident that killed him), you hear her inner monologues in which she puts herself down, and you see her reactions when people raise a hand to her (even if they’re not going to hit her), or get angry with her. Her whole personality screams, “I’ve been abused,” and it’s kind of amazing that no one realized what was going on. There were so many lines that just really spoke to me: “I glance around out of habit, to see if anyone is watching before I approach [Blake],” (10%), “[Trip would] get mad if I had something to do that didn’t involve him,” (14%), “With Trip around, I was isolated from the rest of the school, but I was isolated with him for company. Now I’m just alone,” (34%). And then there was the box of her mementos that absolutely screamed “this is what an abusive relationship looks like!” You had the apology letters – “I’m sorry, I’ll never do it again, please forgive me, I didn’t mean it, etc,” and the expensive gifts to make up for when he hurt her. You had all the pictures in which she didn’t ever really look happy, or looked horribly stressed out. The whole thing just really made me so sad for her, especially her overwhelming fear and the way she’d changed her entire life for this one guy who treated her so badly. And the fact that she believed him when he’d put her down, and how she wouldn’t believe Blake when he said something nice about her just really broke my heart.

And throughout all of this, you have the overarching mystery of what happened the night Trip died. Allie is being followed, being given threatening letters, and is really struggling to figure out what happened to her (and is torn about whether she even wants to know what happened). I felt like the mystery was really well done, because I was just as confused as Allie was and had no idea how everything was going to turn out. I just really wanted Allie to find the strength to remember, to free herself from Trip’s memory, and to start realizing that she was so much better than he’d wanted her to think she was. And most of all I wanted her to realize just how perfect Blake was for her, and how much he cared for her.

Everything about this book was so well done, and I’ve gone on about what I liked so much you’re probably wondering why I took a star off. The truth is that this book starts kind of slowly; I didn’t find myself really engrossed until about 40% into the narrative. But once I hit that point, the book was hard to put down, as I just wanted to know what was going to happen, and what the truth about Trip’s death was. I stayed up far too late last night to finish it, because I got to the point where I couldn’t stop reading. Even with the darker subject matter, there is a lot of hope in this book, not only hope for Allie to heal, but hope that everything will work out for the best. All in all this was a really fabulous debut novel.

Breaking Beautiful is now available in North America from the bookseller of your choice. I highly recommend you pick up a copy.

4stars

An e-galley was provided by the publishers via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. Quotes taken from an uncorrected e-galley.

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2 Responses to REVIEW: Breaking Beautiful by Jennifer Shaw Wolf

  1. Pingback: Top Ten Tuesday #3 –

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