Tuesday, November 30, 2010

YA Book Review: Break

After reading reviews and a couple of summaries of Hannah Moskowitz's YA novel Break, I believed I was opening a gritty novel.  I was disappointed.

Littering the pages with everyone's favorite four-letter word while coming up with a pretty stable premise (a 17 year old boy breaks his own bones on purpose as a way to deal with his brother's incurable ailment) Moskowitz's writing fell far below the grit I expected.

I winced when I first heard about the concept of a boy breaking his own bones.  I was ready for a book where I felt something.  I felt nothing as each time Jonah broke a bone the prose was disappointing.  The idea was more uncomfortable than any of the underwhelming experiences.  Actually, the moments of the most heightened tension were when the protagonist's brother touch spilled milk.  Jonah's brother, Jesse, is allergic to just about everything, especially milk.

In a novel about a boy breaking his own bones, we are left to cry over spilled milk.  Oy...

Once I moved beyond my disappointment that the novel wasn't really gritty, just a teen angst story filled with a lot of attempted mileage out of a curse word...I did see the positives.  There is a story here.  The best moments of the story are certainly the moments when Jonah's interior monologue is flooding his thoughts and our pages.  Here the book feels natural and real.  The exploration of sickness and healing is quite promising during stretches of narrative, but then the author leaves it.

When the teenagers are interacting together in Break it is hit or miss.  There are a couple of moments of action which do not feel forced, and contribute to the development of the character or the progression of the story.  There is some depth to the teen relationships.  Some.

The worst parts of the novel are in the dialogue and in Moskowitz's use of adult characters.

So much of the dialogue is filler.  The bulk of your dialogue should either reveal something about character or move the story along.  This isn't the case here.

The least interesting voices in the novel are the spoken voices.  The most interesting voices are when characters think and we are let inside of their brains.

Towards the end of the novel we are forced to endure conversations between Jonah and group of teenagers whom he just met.  He is in a mental health facility and he doesn't know the kids, nor do we.  Suddenly, they are all playing cards and conversation fills the page.  This would be the part of any movie where you get up and grab a drink (and take your time) because you know you are not missing anything.  Yet, I hung in there.  Nothing happened.

And then, based off of a couple of lifeless conversations over cards, other teens in the facility start breaking their own bones because they are inspired by Jonah.  And then a teen volunteer, Mackenzie, sneaks Jonah out of isolation and out of the facility completely because she is inspired by Jonah.  What?

The adults are worse than flat characters; it doesn't matter that any are in the novel at all.  You could clip the pages where an adult appears and you wouldn't miss them.  They do not contribute to much of anything to the story.  We are told there is conflict among some.  We are shown glimpses of them arguing or being incompetent parents.  We are shown educators who are marionettes of the system, who ostensibly practice what they are going to say to teens at home, along with how they are going to say it.  Adults are stereotypes here. 

In the end, however, there is an idea here.  There is a story.  I'm just not recommending it.

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