A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Broken Things is best-selling author Lauren Oliver's contemporary mystery about two 18-year-olds, Mia and Brynn, who were accused but acquitted of stabbing and killing their best friend Summer when they were 13. The story is reminiscent of the real-life Slender Man stabbing story, because the girls were all obsessed with a fictional fantasy character they were supposedly trying to appease with a sacrifice. There are several explicit descriptions of the violence committed against Summer, and in the present, there are moments of peril, and a near fistfight. Occasional strong language includes "f--k," "s--t," "ass," "bitch," and some homophobic slurs like "lez," "dyke," "box-bumper," and "rug-muncher." Two romances are explored, but there's little more than kissing in the story -- although Summer was reportedly sexually experienced for a 13-year-old. Sensitive readers should be aware that there are references to child murder, substance abuse, mental illness, rehab, animal killing, and pedophilia. Although there's LGBTQ diversity in the book, pretty much all the characters are white.
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What's the story?
Award-winning author Lauren Oliver's BROKEN THINGS is a mystery told in two timelines and perspectives with alternating "then" and "now" chapters from the points of view of 18-year-olds Mia and Brynn, both of whom were accused of brutally murdering their best friend Summer in a ritual sacrifice when they were 13. Mia, Brynn, and Owen (Summer's then boyfriend), all of whom grew up in the same rural Vermont town, were all implicated in the murder (on circumstantial evidence), because they were supposedly writing a fanfiction sequel to their favorite fantasy book, Lovelorn, which ends abruptly without any closure. The three teens didn't go to juvenile detention, but they were all scarred and coped in different ways: Wealthy Owen and his father moved abroad; outspoken Brynn lived in and out of rehab centers; and Mia retreated to her home and has only one close friend, Abby, a fellow homeschooler. When Owen returns home at the same time as the fifth anniversary of Summer's murder, the estranged friends reunite to find the real murderer.
Is it any good?
Oliver's mystery is a compelling mix of Pretty Little Liars, the Slender Man stabbing, and Bridge to Terabithia -- how favorite stories can turn into a refuge and shield. While some young-adult authors struggle to keep multi-POV perspectives distinct enough, Oliver gives both protagonists a clear and different voice. She also makes the Lovelorn and Return to Lovelorn texts as integral and interesting as Rainbow Rowell made the Simon Snow fanfic in Fangirl. Some readers may, in their haste, be tempted to skip the chapter intros from the story-within-a-story, but they shouldn't, as there's so much that's essential and revelatory in those little excerpts. Mia and Brynn are both flawed, as is the late Summer, whose hold on the girls is understandably unhealthy five years after they were found guilty in the court of public opinion.
Oliver makes the supporting characters like Owen, Wade (Brynn's crime-obsessed cousin), and Abby come alive -- particularly Abby, who's a fat-positive beauty vlogger with a large social media following. Owen, once Summer's boyfriend and Mia's best male friend before that, is also interesting but has fewer layers outside of how he made Mia feel as a young adolescent. There are two sweet romances (one straight, one queer) that blossom amid the intense investigation into who really killed Summer, but one is tentative, while the other feels like the beginning of forever. Romance, however, isn't nearly as important as friendship and the many ways these three girls, who were closer than sisters, changed one another's lives, and not always for the better.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the violence depicted in Broken Things. Is it realistic? Is violence against children/teens more disturbing than other kinds of violence?
Discuss how a negative reputation affects kids differently. How do Mia, Brynn, and Owen each cope and deal with death and accusations? Why does Mia assume Owen has an easier time because of his gender and privilege?
Why does Mia believe Summer would've judged her/called her a "chubby chaser" for being attracted to Abby? Do teens judge one another for liking someone plus-sized?
- Author: Lauren Oliver
- Genre: Contemporary Fiction
- Topics: Friendship, High School
- Book type: Fiction
- Publisher: HarperTeen
- Publication date: October 2, 2018
- Publisher's recommended age(s): 12 - 18
- Number of pages: 416
- Available on: Audiobook (unabridged), Hardback, iBooks, Kindle
- Last updated: June 19, 2019
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