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A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this book.
Readers might learn about stories within a story.
Encourages strong friendships and connections but also remaining true to yourself and not allowing yourself to be consumed by a friend to the point that it's toxic. Reveals why teens need to know when to seek help from a trusted adult, and how to determine when adults might be grooming and mistreating you. The power of storytelling and friendship are main themes.
Positive Role Models
Despite their flaws, Mia, Brynn, and Owen, as well as Abby and Wade, are there for one another in a time of extreme need. They help one another heal and acknowledge they need help.
Violence & Scariness
A young woman's murder is described, discussed several times -- sometimes mechanics of how she died, other times the clues surrounding her crime scene. Murder of an animal is also described, as is child abuse, and very briefly (and vaguely) pedophilia. Entire book centers on brutal death of 13-year-old girl, how those accused of the crime had trouble moving on with their lives.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
Recollections of kisses and early crushes. Brynn recounts her sexual/crush history. Brynn and Mia wonder how far Summer went with various boys she was connected to in middle school. Two characters flirt and make out. Two other characters share an epic kiss.
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Occasional strong language: "f--k," "s--t," "bulls--t," "damn," "ass," "d--k," "chubby chaser," "freak parade"; homophobic slurs like "lez," "dyke," "box-bumper," and "rug-muncher."
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Products & Purchases
Several mentions of YouTube and Instagram, since Abby is a popular internet personality. A couple of mentions of iPhone.
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Mentions of contaminated urine so Brynn can fail urine tests. People assume Brynn is addicted to various drugs. A father is described as a recovering alcoholic (who was once mostly an absentee drunk). A mother is described as a recovering opioid addict.
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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.
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.
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.