Thursday, September 20, 2012
Book Review: BROKEN by A.E. Rought
WHY I PICKED IT UP: I was sold on the concept the second I read it on NetGalley. This tale is described as a modern Frankenstein, a romantic science fiction novel for Young Adults that ties Gothic literature into contemporary times. Truthfully, I'm a huge fan of Shelley's Frankenstein and tales about science and experimentation anyway. But even readers for whom Sci-Fi YA is outside their comfort zone can appreciate the personable protagonist's juggling of high school, family, and new love.
WHAT IT'S ABOUT: Emma Gentry is having trouble getting over the tragic death of her boyfriend, Daniel. When she isn't at school, she's probably wandering around the graveyard, wishing Daniel had a grave (instead of an urn) where she could honor him. She can't imagine loving again; that is, until Alex Franks shows up. This loner, designer-clad transfer student attracts gossip and glances the second he steps into Shelley High- and from day one, he has eyes only for Emma. The more Emma gets to know him, the more bizarre similarities she notices between him and Daniel, both in appearance and mannerisms. Is her broken heart just reading coincidences into this new boy, or is Daniel haunting her in a very real way?
*The novel starts with a very appropriate quote from Paradise Lost. I'm a fan of quotes at the beginning of books- it sets up the theme in a poetic, universal way- but I do think it has to be done right. This one was fitting, and launched me right into the mindset necessary to tackle this tale from the best angle.
*References to Gothic literature. I'm a big fan of Gothic literature, but you don't have to be to pick up on some of the references (which, tastefully, aren't always pointed out in glaring lights, but left to wink at the reader). I found a handful, but you might spot some I didn't.
*Rought's language... I'm really in awe of it. She pulls off metaphors and imagery in such an artful, beautiful way- and it's done so casually. Here are some examples:
[When Emma is calling her friend Bree and Bree picks up right away:] "The first ring dies a fast death."
"The siren call of Daniel's old comfort is too strong to resist."
"Late afternoon light sits on the curves of [the stone angel's] cheekbones like tears."
This really shows her skill as a writer. Young Adult romance books tend to focus on plot and character more than the turn of language to draw readers in, but Rought proves that you can have that cake and eat it, too.
*Characters you root for. I wanted Emma to find love after Daniel. I wanted good things for Alex. This is crucial in a YA romance novel, especially one in first person. Rought successfully built round characters, along with a cast of quirky or (appropriately) vile secondary characters.
*Self-referencing. Rought brings in phrases and images that repeat in both obvious and subtle ways throughout the novel, which ties it together. One of the more striking ones? "It doesn't beat for me." -You'll have to read the book to find out what that means- and all of its meanings- because I don't want to spoil it.
*Redundancy. I know that's an ugly word, and I don't mean there was a lot of it. But Emma had similar thoughts over and over, similar situations happened multiple times, and some twists were obvious enough through reiteration of clues that I found myself just waiting until they occurred to Emma, too. The novel was also peppered with descriptions of Emma's clothes, coffee, and breakfast. At first it's great because it humanizes her. But by the time I got toward the more serious, climactic moments, I could have done without knowing what she was eating- there were some more important elements I wanted to get back into.
*Pacing felt off sometimes. Mostly because Emma has a lot of dream sequences. Not a lot, but enough that it slows down the story. The dreams are full of vivid, delightfully-horrifying imagery, but I felt like they would have been more powerful if trimmed to some of the more significant ones. Kind of related to the last point, but she mulls over the same sorts of thoughts. The situation is a lot for this poor girl to take in, but readers will pick up pretty quickly on what she's feeling.
*The characters, as complex and full of voice as they were, didn't always react how I thought real human beings would. I won't give away anything here, but sometimes an awful thing would happen and someone would either not respond or take far too long to, which pulled me out of the story a little. However, I can only think of two significant times where this threw me, so it's not hard to get over.
*This title is not available until January! Which is not a criticism, just a shame- it would make a great Halloween read. But who says you can't have a little Halloween in January?
OVERALL RATING: Recommendable on multiple levels. If you're a fan of Young Adult novels, creepy tales, and romance, read this. Even if you're not, give it a shot anyway, because Rought gives a good lesson on how to incorporate artful language into a character's voice, even when you're dealing with a first-person perspective. Was it an earth-shattering, changes-the-way-I-read-books-forever kind of novel? I can't say that it was, but it's not really supposed to be that kind of book. It does a great job with the Romeo and Juliet meets Frankenstein vibe- internal and external forbidden love in the midst of a firestorm of moral quandaries. It makes Gothic sci-fi relevant to modern readers, and this take makes the novel different than anything else I've read in the YA genre. That alone makes me applaud BROKEN, and I'm really glad I read it.
Please check out this title when it becomes available January 1, 2013 in the US (January 3 in the UK). Let me know what you think of it!
~Special thanks to NetGalley, Angry Robot, and A.E. Rought for providing the materials for this review.~