When the police reopen the investigation, it casts suspicion on Allie and her best friend, Blake, especially as their budding romance raises eyebrows around town. Allie knows she must tell the truth. Can she reach deep enough to remember that night so she can finally break free? Debut writer Jennifer Shaw Wolf takes readers on an emotional ride through the murky waters of love, shame, and, ultimately, forgiveness
OPINION: 5 STARS
Emotional, wrenching and hopeful, Breaking Beautiful is a perfectly blended coming of age and murder mystery. With a broken and sympathetic central character, a vivid setting, and a constantly lingering emotional and painful air, this one most definitely pulls the reader in on page one and refuses to relent. Flashbacks are integrated in a way that progresses the real time plot, and the pacing is steady and engaging.
Allie is most definitely a broken character, the result of far more than losing her boyfriend in a tragic accident. Close to her twin brother, and rapt with guilt over not having cerebal palsy to the debilitating degree he does, there is a very gentle note about Allie even as she stays in a survival type mode for most of the book. With an interesting view on the world, a strong desire to push through the pain more often than not, and a phenomenally woven overall character arc, Allie will stick with readers and rally them behind her.
Allie's family is close, despite the run of the mill disagreements they have. Though stressed by her accident and grief, she continues to be close to them, especially Andrew. The relationship between the twins was poignant and beautifully crafted, giving it a bold realism that will stick out to readers. While her father sometimes comes off as overbearing or too hard on his daughter, the strength of his love is still clear, giving him a depth that brings him full circle by the end of the book.
Blake is a very well done character, playing into his bad boy stereotype given to him by his peers more than simply being a bad boy. Intense yet boyish, Blake is that guy who you want to get to know even when everything else is saying to stay. He and Allie go through a fantastic journey together that builds and tests both. Unafraid of emotions, yet unwilling to simply forgive and forget, there is a very real note to Blake that makes Allie shine without letting himself be washed out.
This one has a very steady pacing in the plot, with bursts of intensity and action, yet mixed with plenty of strong character development. The mystery aspect is perfectly built, giving some clues to let readers predict a few things, while still leaving them with a gutting feeling when the reveals actually happen. Not reliant on convenience or cop outs, the time and thought Wolf has put into every element of the book, right down to the simplest, most mundane of details, is clear and showcased by the end of the book. Hitting on some incredibly rough topics, and giving enough detail to let the readers know all she doesn't say, this one goes all out in it's range and intensity.
The writing is engaging, holding a strong voice yet constantly emotional and wrenching. With some great descriptions, smooth transitions, and flashbacks that are perfectly woven in, Wolf's talents shine easily. The setting is well shown without kicking the reader out of the book whenever it's described, and readers will easily find themselves right next to Allie the entire time.
Guaranteed to leave a lasting impression, Breaking Beautiful is unflinching, visceral, and, in the end, courageous. Blending several different elements and plot lines perfectly, Wolf has taken a new approach to both the coming of age and murder mystery. Going in depth without being overly graphic, hitting some harsh realities, and with a brilliantly fitting title, Breaking Beautiful is a stellar and must read debut.
Source: ARC received from publisher/author in exchange for an honest review
Reading level: Ages 12 and up
Hardcover: 368 pages
Publisher: Walker Childrens
Publication Date: April 24, 2012