I don’t usually read many Young Adult books but there’s been a lot of positive comments about Beautiful Broken Things by Sara Barnard so I thought I'd give it a go and I was pleasantly surprised.
Rather refreshingly, this YA novel is not your usual story about teen romance but instead one about female friendship. Sara Barnard herself describes Beautiful Broken Things as ‘a love story without a romance’, and it’s one which involves a “love” triangle between three friends, Caddy, Rosie and Suzanne. Through the eyes of Caddy, Beautiful Broken Things poignantly explores the trials and tribulations of friendships during the intense emotional rollercoaster of teenagehood.
Caddy is a sensible private school girl from a normal middle class family who deems herself boring because she hasn’t experienced a ‘significant life event’. In order to make herself more interesting, she sets herself goals for the year including finding a boyfriend and losing her virginity. Some reviews have criticised Caddy for being too unlikeable and coming across as ungrateful and self-absorbed but I actually think there are some aspects of her character which are very relatable and I’m sure many will recognise parts of themselves in her. As the “quiet one”, Caddy is often overlooked and it’s hard not to feel insignificant when others disregard you, especially at the age of 16 when you’re still discovering who you are and at your most impressionable.
Caddy and Rosie have been friends forever and are inseparable despite going to different secondary schools. However, the dynamic changes when Rosie befriends the new girl at school, Suzanne. Hoping that her oldest and newest friend will bond, Rosie introduces Caddy to Suzanne. Suzanne is everything Caddy is not – bold, captivating and damaged, having been abused by her step-father (don’t worry that’s not a spoiler, it’s revealed early on!)
Despite Rosie’s best efforts, Suzanne only puts a strain on Caddy and Rosie’s relationship because Caddy feels like her best friend is gradually being taken away from her. They say ‘three’s a crowd’ and from my experience there’s a lot of truth in it when it comes to friendship groups. Someone always ends up being left out and it’s upsetting if you’re the one that gets sidelined, even more so if it’s intentional.
After a turning point in their friendship, we gradually get to know Suzanne as her and Caddy grow closer. Fed up being a wallflower and living in the shadows, Caddy finds the courage to rebel in Suzanne. Caddy encourages Suzanne to open up about her troubled past whilst Suzanne coaxes Caddy to come out of her shell and rebel against her perfectly boring life. This causes the tables to turn as Rosie begins to envy how close Caddy and Suzanne become.
Their journey as friends not only highlights the social stigmas surrounding mental illness but the difficulties of supporting someone through it. Caddy is absorbed into Suzanne’s self-destructive life, whereas Rosie loses patience and withdraws herself, illustrating the damaging effect mental illness can have on relationships. The understanding of abuse and mental health seems very well researched. Its commendable how, instead of dealing with the act of abuse itself, Sara Barnard explores the aftermath of such a traumatic experience and learning to cope with the consequences.
Beautiful Broken Things is worth reading for its realism alone. Set in the seaside town of Brighton, the descriptions of familiar spots like the Pier and Pavilion are so authentic that you can almost taste the salty sea air and hear the seagulls squawking. Also, Sara Barnard’s characters each have traits we can sympathise with but also their own individual flaws, which only makes them more believable.
A story about what happens when a best friend breaks your heart, this powerful and moving book hits far too close to home for me and for many others I’m sure. Although not necessarily the type of book I’d usually go for, I really admire what Beautiful Broken Things brings to the YA genre in the honest and open way that Sara Barnard handles mental health. Caddy, Rosie and Suzanne brilliantly embody the extremities of female friendship, which girls and women of any age will be able to identify within their own relationships, both past and present.