Author: AE Rought
Genre: YA, Retellings, Fantasy, Romance
Publication Date: January 8, 2013 (Strange Chemistry/Angry Robot – North America)
Source: NetGalley Review Copy/Publisher-provided ARC
Summary: Imagine a modern spin on Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein where a young couple’s undying love and the grief of a father pushed beyond sanity could spell the destruction of them all.
A string of suspicious deaths near a small Michigan town ends with a fall that claims the life of Emma Gentry’s boyfriend, Daniel. Emma is broken, a hollow shell mechanically moving through her days. She and Daniel had been made for each other, complete only when they were together. Now she restlessly wanders the town in the late Fall gloom, haunting the cemetery and its white-marbled tombs, feeling Daniel everywhere, his spectre in the moonlight and the fog.
When she encounters newcomer Alex Franks, only son of a renowned widowed surgeon, she’s intrigued despite herself. He’s an enigma, melting into shadows, preferring to keep to himself. But he is as drawn to her as she is to him. He is strangely… familiar. From the way he knows how to open her locker when it sticks, to the nickname she shared only with Daniel, even his hazel eyes with brown flecks are just like Daniel’s.
The closer they become, though, the more something inside her screams there’s something very wrong with Alex Franks. And when Emma stumbles across a grotesque and terrifying menagerie of mangled but living animals within the walls of the Franks’ estate, creatures she surely knows must have died from their injuries, she knows.
☆: 4.5/5 stars – a great retelling of “Frankenstein” and a great debut for Rought!
Review: Seriously am loving this new Gothic revival going on in YA right now! 2012 busted it out with some seriously awesome books, and I can definitely say that 2013 is off to an awesome start in the Gothic/retellings genre with AE Rought’s “Broken”. While admittedly the blurb gives a lot of the story away, the details and the ending totally blew my mind, and while I feel like this story has resolved itself in just one book, it makes me sad to leave this world behind all the same.
For those who have read Neal Schusterman’s “Unwind” trilogy, this is going to be pretty familiar for you in that there are a lot of the same elements going on – bioethics, loss, and how to deal with death. Most of this story is more Emma’s story more than anything else, until the last third of the book, where it becomes both Alex’s and Alex and Emma’s story, together. This book asks sinister, silent questions – what would you do if you found out your loved one’s parts were being used to “further science”? Would you seek out whoever had those parts? How would you mourn? Is it ethical to use those parts after death, giving them new life? And one of my favorite questions of all, which has been heavily speculated about in recent medicine – do we have a basic genetic memory, which goes deeper than simple muscle memory? As in, if our parts are donated to other people, do those people take on the traits of those whose parts they’ve inherited? “Broken” asks (and answers) all of these questions in a way that had me applauding by the end of the book.
I’ll admit the pace at first is sluggish, maybe for a good first fourth of the book. My attention wandered, but Emma’s mourning combined with the appearance of Alex Franks did keep it from wandering away from this story entirely. Rought could have sped things up a bit, but after some pretty thorough reflection, I understand why she started this story the way she did, at the pace she did. It made for a great set-up, and a wonderful lake of tension that only started to really simmer and bubble once Alex Franks made his appearance and started to regularly interact with Emma.
The characters were well-created, with one exception – Bree. I feel like she was 2D compared to the 3D of literally everyone else in this book. I can see why she wasn’t as developed as she doesn’t pop up that much throughout the story, especially when we start wondering about the possible connection between Daniel and Franks, but I feel like she could have been developed whenever she popped in a little bit more. Otherwise, all of the other characters felt so solidly defined, it was as if I was right there next to everyone as everything happened.
The other technical areas of this book are extremely strong, too, even with the slow pace – the world is really well-built, tightly constructed, and gives that Gothic feel to things. The arcs, while quiet and a little fuzzy in terms of how they might be executed at first, definitely surprised me with where they went in terms of how honest they were about science, experimentation, and bioethics, and that was a really, really nice surprise.
But I have to say my favorite part was the sensory imagery and language – Rought is masterful with her use of it, and while it’s really totally grotesque at times, it really is if you’re there with Emma and Alex during that sensory onslaught. I could taste the coffee, feel Alex’s scars, taste the autumn air, and so forth. I love it when debut authors can pull off the sensory input area, and Rought definitely gets props from me for being able to do that so evenly, showing way more than telling.
I loved the ending, my only complaint is this – it wrapped up too neatly, too quickly. I think that I could have gone for another 10-20 pages to see how things would have wrapped up, because at the current length, it just felt more than a bit unbelievable. Especially after releasing all of that tension that had been building up throughout the book. Otherwise, I loved the ending, and while I’m sad to see this world go, I do feel like everything was wrapped up really well within it. I feel like I’m able to let go without any further questions.
One of the first books making my best of 2013 list, “Broken” will be out from Strange Chemistry/Angry Robot on January 8, 2013 in North America. It’s an absolutely gorgeous debut, so be sure to check it out when you can!