Genre: YA fiction
Skunk Cunningham has a loving dad, an absent mother, and a brother who plays more Xbox than is good for him. She has a crush on her teacher, Mr. Jeffries, and fond feelings for Mrs. Buckley, who lives across the street and always has time for her questions. But Skunk also has the neighbours from hell: the five Oswald girls and their thuggish dad, Bob, are vicious bullies whose reign of terror extends unchallenged over their otherwise quiet suburban square. (from back of book)This is one of those books that is filled with countless tragedies. Nothing good ever seems to happen at all during the course of the story. But, if you can look past this constant morbid atmosphere, Broken does have a lot to offer in terms of writing, themes and messages.
The book is written in an odd way, in fact. There are no chapters, so the book feels like one long, continuous story. We alternate narrators at different points in the story: from the point of view of Skunk, a curious and intelligent young girl (who reminds me a lot of Scout from To Kill a Mockingbird), to a third person point of view. One of the things I hear a lot from people is that they usually don't feel they can connect with the characters when a story is not written from first person. Broken proves otherwise. Daniel Clay is an expert at letting us enter the minds of his characters - from the mentally unstable and "broken" Rick Buckley, to the violent and dangerous Bob Oswald, to the naive and innocent Skunk, who just wants to understand the world that surrounds her. I really, really enjoyed the psychological aspect of Broken, and oddly felt a bit more educated when I finished reading.
I love the way Daniel Clay writes. It's simple, straightforward, insightful, and is sometimes weirdly structured and feels a bit choppy. But it works. And it fits with the book beautifully.
"If Dillon could just move his head to the water... But he couldn't move his lips. Or his head. Or his hands. Or his feet. He was tied. Dillon was tied. He was gagged."
What else can I say about his writing? Not much, except that it's great for getting inside his characters' heads. Their thoughts and feelings aren't altered to sound more philosophical, or deeper, or more important. They're laid out in plain sight for the reader to take what they want from it. At times it's disturbing and creepy, but that's all part of what makes the book what it is.
The plot, as I said before, is very dark and borderline depressing. We have a maniac, violent, capable-of-murder family living across the street, a stuck-in-a-rut Mr. Jeffries, a hobo child, and a severely mentally-scarred young man who doesn't leave his room. What good could possibly come from that? And, to tell you the truth, no good does. I appreciated the originality and intriguing-ness of the story, but couldn't help but feel slightly sad whenever I picked the book up to read. That's fine, though, because if Broken was filled with lollipops and rainbows, the message would not come across as Clay intended.
Recommendation: If you're someone who isn't bothered by a plot with almost no happiness, give Broken a shot. It's a unique read that is sure to leave a mark.