Review: ‘Beautiful Broken Things’ by Sara Barnard

This review will contain mild spoilers from the first ~50 pages of the book.

I picked this story up knowing almost nothing about it. I read the blurb and knew it centred on female friendship but I had no real sense other than that of the story. I really enjoyed this book, and its reflections on the intricacies of friendships formed when you are young.

Caddy begins her final year at secondary school aged sixteen and with a list of goals: get a boyfriend, lose her virginity, and experience a Significant Life Event. She is pre-occupied with the idea of Significant Life Events, seeking a defining moment – she believes that nothing has ever happened to her, and that she will be more interesting once it does. In a nutshell, Caddy is very sixteen.

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For a lot of this book, I therefore felt very twenty-three. Obviously I am still a young woman, a young adult, a young person, but I have grown out of what I refer to as Teenager Brain. Perhaps not everyone experiences it, or their teenager brain was just closer to the version of themselves they became afterwards, but every so often I look back at my teenage self and wonder, why did I think, do, say that? Who was that girl? Because I remember her motivations for doing things and how she felt, but I wouldn’t react the same ways now.

Beautiful Broken Things reminded me of how it feels in that hinterland between childhood and adulthood, the strangeness of being neither. I found myself strangely torn between understanding both what she was doing and feeling, and understanding where various adults in the situation were coming from – and both willing her to listen to some of what they said, and them to at least try to listen to what she was saying.

I loved the complexity of the book. It focuses on Caddy and her lifelong best friend Rosie, when the addition of Suzanne comes along. It’s a great examination of different kinds of friendship and their values.

 

I hate to hark back to something I complain about so often on this blog, because I’m getting so bored of saying it – but the point about books, blurbs and content warnings has to be made again here. The blurb paints the major theme of this book as female friendship, but rereading that blurb afterwards there is a very big thematic elephant in the room which I cannot credit people putting it together didn’t notice. This book is also very strongly concerned with childhood domestic abuse and recovery from that kind of trauma. And it is a valid part of the story, and a compassionate exploration of the topic, yet I am stumped for why a book which explicitly makes reference to trigger warnings and their purpose makes no effort to have one itself. It has a list of resources in the back, in if you were effected by the issues in this program style, but prevention is better than cure.*

Putting all that to one side (again), yes, I really did enjoy this book. It deepened my comprehension of life after trauma, and how that might look for some people. I really enjoyed how Caddy started the year with particular goals in mind and that among the things she learned, one of them was that platonic relationships are every bit as important and precious and life-affirming as romantic ones. ‘Just’ friends is a ridiculous phrase which we should all promptly throw in the bin, because good friends are a kind of treasure often difficult to find.

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*I can’t keep rewriting this paragraph every time a book does this though – while it annoys me, I have yet to see a book that does have an effective content warning, unfortunately. That in mind, I’ll be providing a list of content warnings at the end of every review I write here from now on, as it’s really all I can do.

Content warnings: Domestic abuse (physical), manipulation, suicide attempt, injury to a minor, alcohol and drug use

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