Book review by
Andrea Beach, Common Sense Media
Broken Book Poster Image
Suspenseful medical drama about girl yearning to fit in.

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The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Readers will learn about medical subjects, including a genetic disorder called Long QT, which affects the heart's rhythm, and Munchausen ​syndrome by proxy. One section describes attaching defibrillator electrodes to restart a heart. The question-and-answer section at the back of the book has more information on medical issues that come up in the book, including drug overdoses; there's also a bio of author CJ Lyons, a pediatrician as well as a writer. The legal term "Guardian ad litem" is mentioned but not explained (it's a guardian appointed by the court to represent the interests of infants, the unborn, or incompetent individuals in legal actions).

Positive Messages

Positive messages about being a useful, helpful member of a team and recognizing that what you do matters; also, the importance of appreciating all of life's possibilities and taking advantage of them when they come along, and that life's too short to spend it cut off from those you love.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Scarlet is a loving daughter and good student, anxious to do well in school. She stands up to bullies even though she's afraid. She's very grateful for all her parents do to take of her, and she wants to really live, as opposed to merely survive. Her band of friends show loyalty, and love interest Tony displays academic excellence, patience, and a strong willingness to help. Her father is loving but away from home a lot and emotionally distant.


Violent bullying, fear of bullies, and standing up to them are prominent themes. Most of the bullying is verbal but also takes the form of shoving or knocking over lunch trays; there's little detailed description of the mayhem. Several bullying incidents are sexual: Feminine-hygiene products are thrown at a student in the cafeteria, lockers are defaced with tampons and pads drenched in ketchup, a bully leers threateningly twice, and another bully grabs his crotch while threatening the victim. Someone mentions a teen suicide in the past; in different incidents, assailants slam characters into lockers, choke them, or tackle them and knock them down. A woman drugs someone. A police officer places his hand on his weapon, and a bully threatens, "I'm going to kill you, freak!" Someone asks heroine Scarlet if she's a cutter. The About the Author section at the end of the book mentions child abuse, rape, and homicide.


Scarlet, age 15, mentions twice that she's never been kissed. Vague descriptions of two kisses. One mention of breasts, in the context of anatomy rather than sexuality. Scarlet sees a poster of a naked woman in a locker, but it's not described; she mentions that she's seen porn but thought it was gross and not real. She describes feeling mentally undressed by a boy who becomes a friend. There's a mention of herbal supplements to treat erectile dysfunction, as well as the dangers of misusing them.


"S--t," "bitch," "ass," and variations on "hell" and "damn" occur several times apiece; "crap" appears once. Occasional name calling, such as "freak" and "loser."


Scarlet mentions her iPad about a half-dozen times in a very positive light. Other products mentioned include Nike, Prego, YouTube, "Pepto-Bismol pink," Juicy Couture, Ensure, Vitaminwater, and Four Loko.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

We're told Scarlet's dad is a pipe smoker, but we don't see him smoking. Her mom sneaks a cigarette, even though she's lectured Scarlet many times on the evils of smoking. Herbal antidepressants, erectile-dysfunction remedies, and their dangers are mentioned. Other drugs mentioned: Atenolol, a heart medication; JWH-018, a synthetic form of marijuana with effects compared to PCP; and bath salts. It's mentioned that a mixture of JWH-018, bath salts, and herbal erectile-dysfunction pills can cause a heart attack.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Broken, prolific writer CJ Lyons' YA debut, is a teen medical drama with frequent but not gory mentions of blood and other anatomical subjects. Episodes of violent and sexual bullying punctuate the story. Infrequent strong language includes "s--t," "ass," "bitch," and "hell." There are several incidents of sexual harassment, including leering, and two brief kisses. Sporadic drug references include one mixture that induces heart attacks. As the story develops, protagonist Scarlet discovers dark secrets involving her family, including a mysterious death.

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What's the story?

Fifteen-year-old Scarlet has spent her life in and out of hospitals after being diagnosed with a rare genetic disorder that affects her heart rhythm. Entirely homeschooled in the past, she's finally allowed to attend public high school as BROKEN opens. Scarlet wants nothing more than to be a "normal" teen but struggles to fit in after she's quickly branded a "freak." When research for a biology project starts to raise questions about her past, she'll have an even tougher struggle to learn the truth about her family and her illness.

Is it any good?

In Broken, author CJ Lyons effectively uses the backdrop of a serious medical condition to highlight common teen issues. Fitting in and being perceived as "normal," wanting to become independent, needing supportive friends, standing up for yourself, and wondering if you'll ever find true love -- all of these are explored.

The suspense builds nicely to an exciting finish, but a lot of the dialogue between the high school kids doesn't ring true. Scarlet's inconsistent, contradictory observations may be realistic for a 15-year-old, but the flat narration and romance-novel dialogue detract from the character's credibility. Young readers may not notice, though, and shouldn't have a problem identifying with and rooting for Scarlet as she strives for a normal life.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about why people are so fascinated with medical dramas. Would Scarlet or her story be less compelling if she weren't diagnosed with a heart condition?

  • Is there bullying at your school? Is it anything like what happens to Scarlet and her friends? What should you do if someone bullies you or if you see it happening to someone else?

  • Do you know anyone who needs to keep life-saving medication or equipment with them at all times? How does it affect their life? Did this story change how you might view someone with special needs if you were meeting them for the first time?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love teen romance and high school drama

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