Thursday, 1 June 2017

Beautiful Broken Things, by Sara Barnard

Such a brilliant, thought provoking book about the strength of female friendships and how intense they can sometimes be- how in giving so much to a friend, you can lose sight of yourself. The narrative also explores the importance of boundaries, severe trauma and mental health problems, and the tragic truth that sometimes, trying to help, trying to 'be there' for someone is damaging, no matter how good your intentions are. You can be the best, most thoughtful and accepting friend in the world, but some people need rescuing from themselves.

Caddy and Rosie have been best friends their whole lives, despite their separate schools. Caddy's set up is a woefully boy-free affair, filled with too-high expectations and extra curricular activities. At the start of year 11, Rosie meets new-girl Suzanne, and Caddy is determined to hate this super gorgeous, witty, self deprecating interloper that Rosie has brought into her life. But Suzanne- enigmatic, secretive, hurt, has just escaped an unsafe home life and is struggling with her behaviour, her destructive tendencies and her self esteem. Caddy does not come off well to begin with. She's jealous, kind of spiteful and spends a lot of time being self obsessed, lamenting that nothing interesting ever happens to her, unlike Rosie who has a baby sister die and her sister Tarrin who is bipolar. Yep, she really is wrapped up in herself to the extent that she is jealous because her life lacks the drama of death and mental illness. As with many 'shy/boring/too-nice' narrators, she's determined to shed her shyness, become more Rosie, become more interesting. Get a makeover and a boyfriend, in true teen priority style.

Thankfully, Caddy does grow as a character. The duo becomes a trio and for once, it's really refreshing to read a story about three girls where one is not ostracised. As the girls get closer, the reasons for Suzanne's increasingly erratic behaviour becomes clearer. Is friendship enough to save Suzanne? Will listening help? So Rosie seems more aware of Suzanne's state of mind, seems to view her struggle more objectively- Caddie is just desperate to be there, to be a good friend to Suzanne. She kind of gets off on being Suzanne's go to- not just the friend of a friend. She still parades around like a fool as Rosie begins to become concerned about Caddy and Suzanne's developing friendship and the intense closeness that they suddenly have. Caddy thinks she's jealous. Caddy's family think Suzanne is an awful influence and is jeopardising their daughter's future. Suzanne is a brilliantly crafted character, heartrendingly vulnerable and deeply sympathetic- she's frustrating and reckless and in many ways quite unlikable. But she is hypnotic. Rosie and Caddy’s deep, lifelong friendship is such a beautiful one- I absolutely believed in their bond and knew that they were both in it for the long haul.

Teen rebellion is explored brilliantly, and the rites of passage, the bust ups, the friction and the solid foundations of teen friendships are beautifully explored. Anybody that has ever been a teen will relate pretty hard to this. Sara Barnard captures that teen intensity, that NEED to be accepted, to be liked by your peers, perfectly in a complex and engaging character study. The prose is gorgeous- sensitive, resonant, and enthralling. These girls are so real: their changing relationships, the lessons they have to learn and the challenges each faces are so authentic and absorbing.

It leaves the reader with a weird mixed feeling cocktail of melancholy, happiness, hope and that sort of tragic acceptance of inevitability- it's the very definition of bittersweet. In her notes at the back of the book the author herself afterwards calls it "A love story without a romance", which it so absolutely is; it's really refreshing to find a contemporary that willfully neglects boy meets girl romance so steadfastly and instead spins a tale of the deepest and most life changing friendships. The support, the craving and finding of acceptance, how heady that can be. How occasionally, intentionally or not, such intensity often leads to destructiveness.The fallout from such a friendship makes bad decisions seem like good decisions, fosters an impulsiveness that overrides sense. The book is so realistic in its depiction of that process, and in the aftermath and the consequences of such an intense, impulsive friendship.

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