A beautiful book that broke my heart, caused 1am ugly crying and hit too close to home on multiple occasions, Beautiful Broken Things is a story about that intense friendship you have in your teens and what happens when a best friend breaks your heart.
I’m not using my usual format to review this book because there’s so much I want to talk about.
First there’s Caddy, our main character. She’s BFF with Rosie, who goes to a different school and meets Suzanne, the new girl, and clicks with her. Wanting her two best friends to get along, Rosie introduces Caddy to Suzanne, and but doesn’t expect those two to grow as close as they do. The friendship between Caddy, Suzanne and Rosie reminded me of my own high school friendships. My childhood best friend went to a different school to me, so my high school BFF and I bonded hard, but those two girls had issues with each other they never got over, unlike Caddy and Suzanne. And oh god, the whole thing just felt so organic and real – like this is how friendships happen, this is what it’s like to love your best friend that much.
I really identified with Caddy, the ‘poor little rich girl’ who wanted more from life and was swept into this friendship with a girl who was labelled a ‘bad influence’. My mother used to tell me to ‘get a life’ which really, really hurt because I was a teenager with no money who liked to spend time by myself and read so how was I supposed to find this ‘life’? (In hindsight this might be why I moved to England, so that I’d have a ‘significant life event’ like what Caddy wanted). And I really identified with being the ‘good girl’ and having parents who had high expectations – an A grade wasn’t good enough, as my mother said to me last Christmas: “I wish I’d pushed you harder in school.” I turned to her in shock and said, “I was a straight A student, what more did you want from me?!”
Caddy makes mistakes. Those mistakes end up bringing her closer to Suzanne: asking about a Coronation Street episode that she knew was triggering to Suzanne, and then later, when they’re friends, leaving Rosie drunk at a party to take shitfaced Suzanne home. Bad choices. Mistakes. Conflict. Caddy is a teenager and she’s not equipped to make the right choices. As much as I identified with Caddy, I never made those choices as a teen, but I certainly could understand why she chose to.
One of the saddest and most realistic things I found in the book was when Suzanne’s aunt wanted Suzanne to go back to her parents for Christmas. By now the physical abuse Suzanne suffered from her dad (not a spoiler, revealed quite early on) is out in the open and Suzanne’s expected to just sweep it all under the rug and play happy families. This broke my heart because it’s exactly the same situation my husband is in with his family. He had an abusive high-functioning alcoholic dad who beat the shit out of him, yet we’re expected to play happy families and he came to the other side of the world for our wedding and everything. It’s a situation I’ve personally experienced and seen happen to friends, and it breaks my heart. My husband had this friend whose father wouldn’t let his mother divorce him, who was abusive to the mother, and who my husband knocked out one time when he was choking her. Once again, they always kind of swept it under the carpet and played happy families.
Suzanne reminded me of my best friend in the whole world, a beautiful young woman who suffered the most horrific kind of abuse from her father, who (once again) told her mother about it and whose mother swept it under the rug (don’t fucking tell me it doesn’t fucking happen), whose father killed himself rather than go to trial for what he’d done. My best friend is a positive, bubbly, bright young woman and you’d never know about her past until she told you.
Suzanne also reminded me of a young girl I met when I lived in England who lived in a group home because of problems with her family. This girl was self-destructive and I remember having a serious talk with her about having to save money because she’d be kicked out of the group home when she turned eighteen. Suzanne was a cross between these two girls – one horrifically abused but able to speak about it quite casually, and one who continued to hurt herself because there was no one there to support her, who didn’t give a shit about consequences because what could possibly be worse than what had already happened to her? I really think that the portrayal of a troubled, mentally ill teenager was handled much better here than it was in All the Bright Places.
The sad thing about Suzanne is that her situation is so freaking common in England. When I lived there, most of our friends came from broken homes, living in council housing because parents wouldn’t/couldn’t have them or whatever. One guy lived with us for a while because his dad didn’t ‘trust’ him and forced him to sleep in the same room as him. We took in another guy who couldn’t live with his stepdad. We almost had a revolving door of these young, vulnerable people who knew they’d always have a warm bed and a hot meal at our place. See, my husband worked with this drama company that specialised in youth, and we tended to attract the youth at risk. Or maybe everyone just had a shitty home life.
Caddy found this somewhat exciting. She liked rescuing Suzanne, and she soon learned that being a good girl is boring. Caddy started sneaking out at night and letting Suzanne influence her into drinking, smoking, going to parties Caddy would normally ignore. Towards the end, when I cared a lot about what happened to the girls,
I felt like I’d been punched in the stomach. Was this book written specifically for me? I’d lost a friend the same way some years earlier.
I just couldn’t get over how much I recognised in this book from my time living in England or my own high school life with a best friend who ended up breaking my heart (over a boy, of all things). I think because I could identify so strongly with so many elements – the ‘boring’ main character, the abused best friend, the ineffective adults who wanted to pretend nothing was wrong, the intense friendship of teen girls – this book affected me much harder than I expected it to. I ended up sobbing into my pillow when I thought something terrible might happen to the girls, and it took all my willpower not to skip ahead and check if they were OK.
I thought that this book was beautifully written; each of the characters, even the unlikeable ones, terribly realistic; the portrayal, handling and understanding of mental illness and abuse seemed well-researched; the pace was steady and ongoing for a book more into character study than action. I absolutely adored this book and it’s one of my absolute favourites of 2016.
I received this book for free from Pan Macmillan. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.