Bookish Review: Beautiful Broken Things by Sara Barnard

Beautiful Broken Things by Sara Barnard

Published: February 2015 by Macmillan Children’s Books

Genre: Contemporary, Realistic Issues

Rating: ♥ ♥

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I read Suicide Notes from Beautiful Girls not long ago and was disappointed by the portrayal of female friendships so I had high hopes for Beautiful Broken Things especially as it seemed to be receiving rave reviews.

Caddy and Rosie have been best friends since forever, and whilst Rosie is the confident one and Caddy the shy and “uninteresting” one, their friendship is comfortable and stable. Enter Suzanne, the exciting but mysterious new girl and before long, Caddy finds herself overcoming her jealousy of this intruder and thirsting after the freedom and rebellion that Suzanne brings. But Suzanne is running from her own demons and Caddy soon finds herself swept up in a tumultuous friendship.

Sounds great doesn’t it? Sadly, I was very disappointed with this book, and I’m aware I’m in the minority! It took me a while to get through Beautiful Broken Things and honestly? It was a slog. My biggest issue with the book was that for the first 75% we have a ridiculous amount of repetition. Nothing seemed to happen that hadn’t happened once twice multiple times already. Let me explain. Essentially, we had a Groundhog Day-esque loop of situations:

  • Step 1: Suzanne does something reckless
  • Step 2: Rosie gets annoyed and calls her out on it
  • Step 3: Caddy would stand up feebly for Suzanne whilst rejoice in feeling needed
  • Step 4: Suzanne would apologise (I am not even kidding, “sorry” appears a grand total of 88 times in the book!)
  • Step 5: Rosie and Suzanne would make up
  • Step 6: Repeat ad infinitum

And I’m sorry to say but that gets tiresome really quickly. The same can be said for the characters but special shout out to Caddy here (just as an aside, I really couldn’t get over this name, I actually took to calling her Cadence in my head because seriously Cadnam). So the idea is that Caddy, through Suzanne, will finally stop being “uninteresting”. Unfortunately, I felt like Caddy exploited Suzanne’s recklessness to make herself feel needed and validated which was so dangerous for Suzanne who was essentially spiralling out of control and needed support and stability more than anything. Also, I didn’t see any character development in Caddy, she was just as insecure, naive and selfish in the last chapter as the first, and especially at times when her friends needed her. There was one point where I wanted to throw the book across the room because of her sheer idiocy but Rosie’s reply stayed my hand:

Caddy: “How could we know this was going to happen?”
Rosie: “But the thing is, you should have known that something like this could happen. Like, that’s pretty much exactly why people don’t do things like this.”

There were a couple of redeeming features hence the two star rating. First, I appreciated that Barnard portrayed the complexity of female friendships with all of its obsessions, jealousy and conflict without having to rely on any romantic subtext. Teenage female relationships are messy and passionate and sometimes authors seem to feel the need to justify it by weaving in romantic subtext – honestly there’s enough drama in platonic female friendships that you don’t need to amplify it! Secondly, I liked that Barnard was original in looking at the aftermath of abuse in Beautiful Broken Things and how the trauma doesn’t magically just go away once a victim is removed from an abusive situation.

Despite those few positives, the best way I can sum up this book is that I felt like a rubbernecker. You know when there’s been a car crash on the side of the road and drivers slow down to stare as they drive by? Well with Beautiful Broken Things, I was the driver and the book was unfortunately the car crash. Beautiful Broken Things was interesting enough, in a morbid “I know something bad will happen” kind way and that’s why I stuck around (I wanna know how it ends dammit!) And to continue the analogy, exactly as you would with a car crash you’d rubberneck for a minute, maybe two, and then be on your merry way, the whole thing forgotten and filed away as insignificant in the grand scheme of your life. This pretty much sums up my feelings about Beautiful Broken Things – it was just about interesting enough to pique my curiosity but totally forgettable once put down.

Bookish Review: The Royal We by Heather Cocks & Jessica Morgan

The Royal We by Heather Cocks & Jessica Morgan

Published: April 2015 by Grand Central Publishing

Genre: Contemporary, Romance

Rating: ♥ ♥

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The Royal We was a Book Club read and disclaimer up front: I don’t think this genre is generally up my street hence hence the rating. Nonetheless, I was slightly intrigued by the fact that the book is a fictionalised account of Kate and William’s story and was willing to have my initial impressions proven wrong.

A year abroad at the University of Oxford has American Rebecca Porter finding adventure and romance – with the future King of England no less. Prince Nicholas lives across the hall from Bex and before long she is swept up in his eccentric group of friends, his undeniable charm and the unbelievable royal lifestyle. But as is the way with fairy tales, the path of true love is not without its obstacles and Bex finds herself thrust in the spotlight and caught up in the whirlwind of fancy parties, the tabloid press and the persistent paparazzi. And that’s not to mention the drama that her twin Lacey, Nick’s brother Prince Freddie and the couple’s respective families add into the mix. Before long Bex finds herself in the middle of a royal scandal and at risk of losing the life and love that she has sacrificed everything for…

The authors of the book run the successful fashion and celebrity blog Go Fug Yourself so it was interesting to read a book where the baddies are essentially the invasive tabloid press and bloggers who dig up the ultimate dirt on celebrities and light the kindle that propels scandals into the open. Cocks and Morgan are clearly very well acquainted with this journalistic style and are pleasantly critical of the harmful consequences it can have for and on the subjects of tabloid gossip. It was refreshing that the book was sympathetic to Bex’s experience of the rabid paparazzi even as Cocks and Morgan owe their success to this kind of journalism and showed a level of self-awareness that I could appreciate.

However, when it comes to the actual story, I wasn’t particularly invested from the get go. It is closely based on Kate & Wills story (besides the obvious and glaring differences like the fact that Bex is American, they’re at Oxford rather than St. Andrews, and Nick’s mother is alive and kicking) and so it didn’t feel like anything new was being offered about the famous courtship. The characters felt a little bland and one-dimensional with each having one dominant personality trait that underlined their inclusion in the book – Gaz as the comic foil, Celia as the stalwart best friend, Lady Bollocks as the classic stuck up posh girl later turned ally, Freddie as the playboy prince, Lacy as the spoiled twin desperate to share Bex’s limelight. The tropes meant that you could almost see the story play out without reading even half of the book.

It also felt like the book could’ve been much, MUCH shorter without detracting from the main plot. A lot of the drama felt contrived and unnecessary while many of the chapters and events felt like filler material before we got to the climax – so much so that it was a bit of a slog to get through the 300 or so pages in the middle and still feel invested in the characters and their respective stories. One thing that irritated me was the introduction of some heavy topics such as mental illness and sexuality which I initially applauded but promptly realised they were essentially plot devices brought on stage to further Bex and Nick’s relationship and then it was exit stage left. I definitely think these issues could have been developed with a bit more attention and respect. The twist at the end whilst interesting came too late to reinvigorate my interest and by then I was just on the home stretch looking forward to finishing it.

I think people who are fans of gossip sites or even the history/”behind the scenes” of the Royal family might enjoy The Royal We more than I did and as I said up front this really wasn’t my cup of tea to begin with.  But despite this, even though I was willing to be pleasantly surprised and proven wrong, Cocks and Morgan didn’t put forward a new spin on this well-known story to gauge much interest on my part 😦

Bookish Review: Suicide Notes from Beautiful Girls by Lynn Weingarten

Suicide NotesSuicide Notes from Beautiful Girls by Lynn Weingarten

Published: July 2015 by Simon Pulse

Genre: Mystery, Contemporary

Rating: ♥ ♥ ♡ ♡ ♡

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I was drawn to Suicide Notes from Beautiful Girls because of the haunting title and cover. The blurb held promise of teenage issues, intrigue and tragedy and compared the novel to Gone Girl and 13 Reasons Why, two books I’ve read and enjoyed. Plus it’s a mystery so basically it was ticking all of my boxes!

Up until a year ago, June and Delia were best friends. Whilst Delia was the more daring, experienced and also slightly unstable of the two, theirs was an unwavering friendship despite their differences, one bonded by the ties of secrets. However, when one night’s antics go too far, their friendship is tested and in the aftermath, June distances herself from Delia. That is until she hears news that Delia has died in a suspected suicide. For June, the incident dredges up the past and not-so-old feelings and she finds herself obsessing over what exactly happened that night when Delia went up in flames, and what drove her to take such drastic action? After Delia’s ex-boyfriend suggests foul play, June begins to dig deeper into her old friend’s suicide and is confronted with the fact that some details about the incident just do not add up…

“Having secrets together makes you real friends,” she said. “Secrets tie you together.” And June felt suddenly giddy at the idea that Delia would want to be tied to her.

Suicide Notes from Beautiful Girls started well. When the idea that Delia’s death might not have been suicide, but something more sinister, was introduced it held promise. It was endearing at the beginning to see June so doggedly follow the few clues she had and put herself in uncomfortable positions because she was desperate to do right by her friend. The story was setup using flashbacks showing their friendship before they became estranged. It was these glimpses into the past that allowed the reader to get a better understanding of Delia and June and their friendship since details were scarce in the present. Their inseparability and reliance on each other was clear and it made the reader want to find out what exactly happened that changed things so drastically between them. These flashbacks though were not in chronological order and so the narrative did often feel rather disjointed.

As I read on, I also started to find the characterisation quite flimsy. I did not care one iota for Delia, and considering the whole point of this book was finding out the truth behind her alleged suicide, it didn’t help me feel any sympathy for the character or cheer on June to solve the mystery. I also couldn’t get fully behind the whole friendship either – it seemed toxic and didn’t seem to be balanced for the two of them. June seemed much more reliant on Delia, crediting her with giving her confidence, whilst Delia came across as rather possessive. Although close and almost obsessive friendships between girls aren’t all that uncommon when growing up, this friendship did leave a bit of a bad taste in my mouth.

It’s like when Delia was around, the borders of June’s skin weren’t there. Delia wrapped her up and sunk right in.

In terms of the other characters, June’s boyfriend wasn’t well-developed enough for me to take his plot arc seriously. The characters introduced later on were also rather two-dimensional, their only purpose was to serve as plot devices and they all appeared to have just one or two basic characteristics – jealous, broody, pining etc etc. Although this could be explained by their background, which I won’t go into in detail because spoilers, I still didn’t feel like it was a good enough reason to not develop them a bit further especially as they’re pretty crucial to the climax. Save for Jeremiah, Delia’s ex-boyfriend, who seems to be the only character to show any genuine emotion, none of the characters felt realistic beyond walking and talking plot devices which was a huge shame.

The biggest let down for me was the turn the book took about mid-way. It felt a bit like a cop-out and invalidated all that had happened up to that point. And everything that happened from the point onward didn’t seem to have much substance or point – June, and the reader, were essentially just waiting around for the climax to happen and in the meantime all the characters had time to do was to indulge in some petty avoidable drama. Even still, I could’ve forgiven these issues if the twist wasn’t so guessable early on. It all got a little too far-fetched for me, and not enough was done by Weingarten to convince me to suspend my disbelief.

I had high hopes for Suicide Notes from Beautiful Girls but I was left feeling underwhelmed and a little frustrated because it had potential. The plot took some pretty huge liberties at the expense of being “twisted” and “unpredictable” and, because I couldn’t connect to the characters beyond a superficial level, it fell flat for me. Still I’ve given the book 2/5 because I did want to finish the book and because the first half wasn’t terrible.

If you’re looking for a satisfying thriller/murder mystery which deals which weaves in unreliable narrators and toxic friendships, I suggest you look no further than Dangerous Girls by Abigail Haas – one of my absolute all time favourite YA murder mystery thrillers.

Have you read Suicide Notes from Beautiful Girls? What were your thoughts on the ending? Let me know in the comments below 🙂