Saturday, October 25, 2008

Broken by Daniel Clay

At the beginning of Broken, Skunk Cunningham, an eleven-year-old girl, speaks to us from her hospital bed. She's in a coma. Through the rest of the book, we learn of her life before the coma and how she got this way. It's a story about innocence, love, betrayal, mental health, bullying and living through it all.

I absolutely loved this book. I really can't say that enough. The storyline was superb, compelling, heartbreaking and at times surreal. That isn't to say it wasn't believable because it was...mostly, anyway. There was just so much going on, it seemed bizarre that so much could happen to these people in such a short time. Even so, I couldn't help but feel sorry for some of these characters. Amidst the anger, pain and horror there are moments of hopefulness, innocence and humour.

Clay's novel is filled with unique and outrageous characters. The most notable are: Bob Oswald and his out-of-control gang of girls who's names all start with 's'; Broken Buckley, who is slowly driven to madness; Mr. Jeffries, Skunk's teacher, who should be on the verge of a breakdown after all that happens to him; Skunk herself, who's innocence is in jeopardy, and a host of other characters who round out this cast of misfits. Out of all of them, I think Skunk (who names their kid Skunk?) was my favourite with poor Broken a close second. Bob Oswald and his children scared me. I didn't get beat up in school, but I do remember a few bullies. These girls are beyond that. With the exception of the little ones, this family terrorised and basically took this neighbourhood hostage. I'm hoping that this family is a gross exaggeration and that a family like this really doesn't exist. However, I fear that I'm wrong. As horrible as this family is, some of the characters are inexplicably drawn to them which ultimately leads to their "brokenness".

Clay's writing is straightforward and easy to read. I loved his matter of fact style and the sections where he outlined the story in a "bullet" or list fashion. Unique and effective. Usually books without chapters give me a hard time. Not so with this one. I devoured this book in just a few sittings and did not want to put it down. It fascinated me, entertained me, made me laugh and scared the hell out of me.

I liked that the story started and ended with Skunk's narrative in the first person. It then switched to a third person to tell the rest of the story with Skunk occasionally interjecting her commentary. It reminded me that she was still there in her coma slowly revealing the story for us.

I think one could make the case that almost everyone in this book is "broken" in some sense. The Oswalds, Broken, Broken's family, Cerys, Mr. Jeffries, and finally Skunk herself.

Awesome first novel. I'd definitely read another book by Mr. Clay.

Highly recommended.

This review copy was provided by the publisher through the wonderful people at Edwards Magazine.

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