A Review of Broken by A.E. Rought
Strange Chemistry, 2012
by REBECCA, December 5, 2012
Emma Gentry: broken-hearted at the death of her boyfriend, Emma feels alone, until . . .
Alex Franks: shows up at Shelley High with his hood up, hiding a secret, and falls for Emma
Bree: Emma’s drama-club bestie, she really wants Emma + Alex to work
Dr. Franks: Alex’s surgeon father. I think you can guess the rest.
Emma’s mom: an overprotective headcase whose only apparent redemption is that she makes delicious breakfasts
Josh: Emma’s ex’s BFF, he has a crush on Emma, of the ponytail-in-the-inkwell variety, and red hair, as the author tells us 47,000 times, so it must be important.
“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.” That’s what Goodreads tells me to imagine, so that’s what I imagined. And it sounded pretty good.
But it’s not. Look, y’all, I hate to start off a review as such a negative nellie (well, no, I don’t mind), and believe you me I tried to find something positive to begin with, but . . . there’s just nothing.
Let me begin instead, then, with saying that I think Frankenstein is one of the most perfect novels ever written. It is an amazing story that’s gorgeously written and packs as much punch today as it did in 1818. So, tell me you’re doing a Frankenstein-esque story, and I’m 1. excited! I love it! and 2. immediately suspicious, because who the heck do you think you are; this had better be amazing or you’re going to look like an idiot.
Now, last year, I reviewed Kenneth Oppel’s This Dark Endeavour: The Apprenticeship of Victor Frankenstein, Book One. It was really good because it delved into the character of Victor Frankenstein and then constructed this origin story that explores how that character might have come to be who he was in Shelley’s novel. There are also several other Frankenstein-esque YA tales that have come out this year/are coming out soon—more on that in a tick.
The problems with Rought’s Broken are manifold. Most importantly, the short blurb above—”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”—gives away every single thing in the book. No, seriously. This major problem is exacerbated, further, because the book seems not to know that the reader already knows everything. And I found this infuriating. I promise, no spoilers follow . . . because you already know everything. From reading the blurb. Really. Here’s the longer blurb, from Goodreads:
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.
NOW YOU HAVE READ THE ENTIRE BOOK AGAIN! Look, I’m not trying to be nasty; I just don’t understand. There are certain things everyone knows when you say you’re doing a Frankenstein retelling. Chief among them? That there’s a doctor who puts together a person out of other people and brings it to freaking life. Right? We agree on this, I think. So, then . . . your book has to have other things that are surprising, otherwise . . . why in the name of all that is reanimated am I going to read it? Now, I blithely started reading my copy of Broken assuming, for the reason I just stated, that there were going to be surprises galore given that it had already told me so much of what would happen. Erm, no. There aren’t any. So, the blurb tells me that:
1. there have been a rash of disappearances
2. Emma’s boyfriend Daniel died
3. Alex’s dad is a surgeon
4. Alex shows up with eyes exactly like dead Daniel’s, he is strangely drawn to Emma, and he knows things about Emma that only Daniel knew (her locker combination, the nickname she shared only with Daniel).
5. She goes to his house and finds animals who died and are now mysteriously alive.
HOW ON EARTH COULD I NOT KNOW WHAT IS GOING ON WITH EMMA, DANIEL, AND ALEX? ALEX FRANKS. FRANKS. FRANKENSTEIN. And yet, despite Alex’s uncanny similarities to Daniel being discussed multiple times early on, the book still acts like this is some shockingly mysterious reveal at the end. COME ON, book! It’s like those infuriating people who don’t know what to say to you or they’re too self-absorbed to notice you, so they just pretend you’ve never met. Like, you’ve been introduced three times and on the fourth introduction the person’s all, Hey, nice to meet you. At that point, book, I have to say, We’ve already met! Three times! You’re not fooling me into thinking that’s shocking information when you told me in chapter one! Sorry to embarrass you, but there’s just nothing for it!
what were this book’s intentions? did it live up to them?
Ahem. So, I think this book intended to use the YA paranormal romance genre to update
one of the greatest books ever written and the gothic novel against which all others are measured Frankenstein. Did it live up to that intention? Well, it’s definitely a paranormal romance.
Here’s the thing. This is a book that I read and thought: How did it get this far? You know? Like, at some point in the process, people should have stepped in and said that the book wasn’t really doing anything; instead, it seems, they decided to really try and capitalize on Broken‘s connection to Frankenstein, hoping that would be enough to sell it. And I think that was to its detriment, really. I mean, on one hand, at least the Frankenstein element kept it from being yet another copycat paranormal romance—like, I can’t lie: cutting people up to make another person? Never boring. But putting the Frankenstein connection out front seems to have erased the book’s obligation to do anything else. Take away those elements and it’s not even a fully-fleshed out romance. I wish they had buried the Frankenstein stuff in the publicity for the book, been much more oblique about the connection between Daniel and Alex, and let it be a macabre surprise for the reader.
Lest you think that I’m only upset because I didn’t have a shocking (get it?! sorry.) reading experience, allow me to put that notion to rest. Not only is the writing sloppy and choppy, I have rarely seen a book more chock-full of clunky similes that interrupt rather than enhance the atmosphere. Sometimes my students will do that thing where they look up every word in the thesaurus and replace it with a bigger word in the attempt to make their papers more academic-sounding, the result of which is the kind of word-salad that’s only charming in a five year old kid who overheard her parents say “cumbersome” and then asks for some cumbersome in that salad. Broken, for a similar reason, has convinced me that somewhere on the internet there is a simile-thesaurus that lets you plug in your sentence and spits it back to you translated into a simile-studded jello mold. Like, I don’t really find it evocative to read that someone’s expression “pours” over your face. Four times. Ew.
Finally, that Broken is an update of Frankenstein has an unfortunate side effect. It’s Frankensteinness literalizes one of the worst habits of the YA paranormal romance genre: instalove. When Alex shows up already primed to love Emma, it doesn’t matter that it’s for grotesque surgical reasons—the narrative effect is the same. The story is obviated of any need to develop their relationship with any nuance. I find this doubly amusing, my reading of Broken coming on the heels, as it does, of A.E. Rought’s blog post over at Strange Chemistry, in which she names instalove as one of the Top Ten Tropes in YA (alongside the truly horrible non-trope “female protagonists”!—read Elizabeth’s Vail’s nice rejoinder HERE).
So, friends, I regret having to post an entirely negative review, but Broken falls into every trap that a bad update/remake/riff can. However, I’m glad I read it only because, as I mentioned before, there are several other Frankenstein-related YA reads in circulation, so I’m going to go find them, read them, and then get back to you with a post about what Frankenstein (apparently) has to offer the world of YA. Check back.
In lieu of actual readalikes (because you wouldn’t want to) here are some other YA takes on Frankenstein.
This Dark Endeavour: The Apprenticeship of Victor Frankenstein, Book One by Kenneth Oppel (2011). Great story of the childhood of Victor Frankenstein and his twin brother. The sequel, Such Wicked Intent, is out now. My review is HERE.
Henry Franks by Peter Adam Salomon (2012). Here’s a take, published by Flux (yay!) that has gotten really good reviews. I haven’t read it, but I will and shall report back. There’s a serial killer, it appears.
Dr. Frankenstein’s Daughters by Suzanne Weyn (forthcoming, 2013). Then, coming out in January is the story of Dr. Frankenstein’s daughters who try and continue his work and, it looks like, have some kind of love triangle. Ah, well, guess they can just make another one of whatever guy they like, no problem (note: if that turns out to actually be the premise of this book, I in no way intended to spoiler you).
procured from: I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley (thanks!) with no compensation on either side. Broken will be available January 8th.