CM . . .
. Volume XV Number 15 . . . . March 20, 2009
A truly enjoyable novel, Broken is about a teenager's struggle for identity and how she comes to accept herself and her situation amidst the emotional turmoil brought on by her father's pending remarriage and the related redirection of his attentions away from her. From the book cover, readers know that they are to consider 16-year-old Ash Perrault's situation in light of the Cinderella fairytale. Ash's name recalls the "cinder" in Cinderella as well as Charles Perrault, the 18th century French folklorist who put this oral tale to paper. Indeed, the novel contains numerous other allusions to the fairytale, with some being obvious, such as the idea of the stepmother (whose name is Ella), the two stepsisters, and a cat named Grimm. Others are more subtle, like the appearance of small birds on the periphery of the action, fluttering at a window, swooping overhead, and emerging from a mosaic made of broken glass – glass that happens to break when Ash is upset. Moreover, some are absent (the fairy godmother), and some are subverted (the handsome prince and the marriage at the end of the story).
This first person narrative contains many qualities familiar in contemporary YA novels, including a love interest, a wise best friend, and social rejection and acceptance in school. Ash's character is entirely believable as are the characters of her soon-to-be stepsisters. Her new stepmother, although far from being the cruel fairytale character, is surprisingly insensitive to her effect on Ash's life and relationship with her father. Ash's father, on the other hand, is a slightly exaggerated version of Perrault's diminutive character. He completely overlooks his daughter's feelings, believes the lies of others over Ash's truths, discounts her clearly demonstrated distress, and ignores her to the point of having his engagement party on the same day as her birthday. Although readers never get the satisfaction of seeing him become aware of his major role in Ash's struggles, by the end of the book readers do see Ash determined to stand up for herself and committed to ensuring that he doesn't continue to ignore her.
Broken might be characterized as Canadian realistic fiction containing some magical realism. Although the defining Canadian qualities are minimal, such as a reference to Pierre Trudeau and Louis Riel, and Canadian spellings, this book does not come across as having been modified to appeal to an American audience either. The magic realism revolves around the fact that Ash seems able to break glass with her mind. The events are focalized through Ash, and she comes across as a reliable narrator despite being oblivious to the fact that her new boyfriend is using her to get back at his old girlfriend. However, once or twice I wondered if she was breaking glass deliberately and not telling us, or whether it was coincidence that glass broke when she was upset. Although in every other way Ash is a reliable narrator, this indeterminate quality adds appeal to this novel.
This book proceeds at an appropriate pace for readers in their early teens. The language and the concepts are suitable for competent readers from 12 to 14 and reluctant readers from 14 to 15. Broken would also be useful for its discussion of blended families, the relationship between individuality and social conformity, self worth, and for beginning discussion about bulimia (although it is a minor event in the novel) as well as for embarking on literary discussions of fairytales and their intertextual influences on contemporary fiction. I highly recommend this book, it is engaging, entertaining and a pleasure to read.
Karen Taylor is a Master of Arts in Children's Literature candidate at the University of British Columbia.
To comment on this title or this review, send mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.