Imagine a modern spin on Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein where a young couple’s undying love and the grief of a father pushed beyond sanity could spell the destruction of them all.
A string of suspicious deaths near a small Michigan town ends with a fall that claims the life of Emma Gentry’s boyfriend, Daniel. Emma is broken, a hollow shell mechanically moving through her days. She and Daniel had been made for each other, complete only when they were together. Now she restlessly wanders the town in the late Fall gloom, haunting the cemetery and its white-marbled tombs, feeling Daniel everywhere, his spectre in the moonlight and the fog.
When she encounters newcomer Alex Franks, only son of a renowned widowed surgeon, she’s intrigued despite herself. He’s an enigma, melting into shadows, preferring to keep to himself. But he is as drawn to her as she is to him. He is strangely… familiar. From the way he knows how to open her locker when it sticks, to the nickname she shared only with Daniel, even his hazel eyes with brown flecks are just like Daniel’s.
The closer they become, though, the more something inside her screams there’s something very wrong with Alex Franks. And when Emma stumbles across a grotesque and terrifying menagerie of mangled but living animals within the walls of the Franks’ estate, creatures she surely knows must have died from their injuries, she knows.
Oh, dear. Where to start with this one, really? As a giant fan of retellings, and having enjoyed Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein quite a bit when I read it several years ago, I was really looking forward to Broken. It’s not often that you come across classics retold (or, at least I personally haven’t read many at all), so this promised something new and fresh. I wanted something gothic and eery, reminiscent of the original tale. And, in some ways, I suppose the book delivered: set during the Halloween season in Michigan, the descriptions of the setting were spot-on; Emma feels uneasy, she hangs about cemeteries, and there are plenty of descriptions of the lit jack-o-lanterns grinning from her neighbor’s porches. I enjoyed reading about her surroundings quite a bit. Unfortunately, the rest of the book wasn’t nearly as engaging or interesting, and I found myself in a serious struggle to get through it.
For me, the main problem with this book was the slow pace of the plot. For the first 50%, you are stuck reading a minute-by-minute account of Emma’s school day, from her teachers’ lectures, to her walking the halls, to her waiting in line and getting lunch. This goes on for several days in a row, and, frankly, got extremely tiresome and tedious. It also really slowed the book down. Once she meets Alex, she can tell something’s off about him, but she’s strangely drawn to him anyway (yes, there’s insta-love, although it IS explained toward the end, so I’m willing to forgive it in this case). Cue lots of dirty looks and rude responses from the other girls at her school who were hoping to snag Alex for themselves, as well as a rumor mill that works like greased lightning, and you also get lots of Emma trying to ignore what they’re saying while internalizing how much it irritates her. Throw in a school dance, multiple stops at a local coffee shop, and some evenings spent with either Alex or Bree (Emma’s best friend) helping her with homework, and you pretty much have the synopsis for the first half of Broken.
I also want to mention that I had a really difficult time connecting with Emma. She’s supposedly sad, suffering from the shocking death of her boyfriend, and she’s mourning the fact that he doesn’t have a grave (hence her penchant for hanging about cemeteries), but I never really felt the connection with her grief. It was simply words on a page: they had absolutely no effect on me. This made the first part of the book doubly difficult, because, not only did I not care about how she spent her school days, but I also really didn’t care about how she was feeling. Mostly I was just wishing that the book would get to the point, which is not really a good combination of feelings for a reader to have.
Broken did have some good parts. While the climax was, for me, too long in coming, once things started becoming clear to Emma, I did like her roiling mass of emotions. I could easily understand being confused and uncertain of what you can do when faced with the information that comes to light. I also liked how the action picked up and things finally started happening. I just wish it would have happened sooner; I mean, knowing this is retelling Frankenstein, most older readers are going to know exactly what’s going to happen, so trying to make it into some sort of mystery really isn’t going to work. Maybe if I were younger – I’m thinking MG/young-YA – this would have been a completely different reading experience, but for me, personally, it just really didn’t work.
While promising a modern retelling, Broken sort of falls flat. Fans of romance novels who don’t mind a slower-moving plot will probably get more enjoyment out of this than those reading it because it’s supposed to retell Frankenstein. For me, personally, there just weren’t enough of the original elements to properly call this a “retelling” (although the question of who’s really the monster is quite apropos, although not nearly as thought-provoking in this case). But of course, your mileage may vary; if you’re intrigued by it at all, then give it a read. Perhaps you’ll like it more than I did.
An e-galley was provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.