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The Art of Breaking Things

Book review by
Mandie Caroll, Common Sense Media
The Art of Breaking Things Book Poster Image
Compelling story of teen sex assault, healing power of art.

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A lot or a little?

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

Educational Value

The issue of consent is tackled from many angles. Some drawing/art techniques are described.

Positive Messages

Healing can happen, but it takes time, communication, and honesty. Art can be a part of healing. Sexual assault is not the victim's fault. The novel stresses the importance of sexual consent, honesty, speaking out, and the value of community.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Relatable teen characters sometimes make poor decisions under traumatic/tough circumstances. Skye leans on her artistic abilities to support her healing. She's a loving older sibling who often supports her single mom. Skye learns from the negative consequences of her behavior, and how to better communicate. Trustworthy, reliable adults serve as role models. Several fully realized characters of color, but one black teen is depicted in a stereotypical manner (athlete, sexually aggressive). All other characters are assumed to be white. Class differences are a minor theme.

Violence

An adult male character speaks to and touches two young girls in inappropriate ways. A 12-year-old Skye describes the sexual assault she endures. Skye also describes being raped at 14 by an older teen. Both incidents are explicit and disturbing. Male teen character has sex with Skye when she's blackout intoxicated and unable to give consent, and he pressures Skye for sex on two other occasions. None of Skye's assaulters face significant consequences, though they are not glorified in any way.

Sex

Kissing, references to past sex, and desire for kissing/sex. One sex scene between consenting older teens, including the use of protection. Some exploration of sex as one expression of a young woman's empowerment.

Language

Language includes several uses of "s--t" and "f--k" and its variants, as well as "hell," "damn," "bitch," "boobs," "hardass," and "slut."

Consumerism

YouTube mentioned once.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Lots of underage drinking, marijuana use with clear consequences (blacking out, car getting towed, fights with friends and parents, rehab). Adults drink to excess several times. Mother character owns marijuana and pipe. Cocaine use by older teens once.  

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Laura Sibson's The Art of Breaking Things explores the far-reaching repercussions of a sexual assault Skye Murray experiences when she's 12-years-old. Skye must face her past when the man who assaulted her re-enters her family years later. This novel can help teens understand sexual assault and consent. Skye copes with her trauma by using alcohol, marijuana, and sex. One scene depicts teens using cocaine. Most of these behaviors are coupled with negative or appropriate consequences, including rehab. Skye's childhood assault is described, as well as a later rape; both scenes may be difficult for sensitive readers. A male teen character has sex with Skye when she's blackout intoxicated and unable to give consent. One scene shows intercourse between consenting older teens. Strong language includes occasional uses of "s--t," "f--k" and its variants, among others.

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What's the story?

THE ART OF BREAKING THINGS tells the story of 17-year-old Skye Murray, a young artist from a small town outside Philadelphia who lives with her single mom and 12-year-old sister, Emma. When Skye's 12, her mother's boyfriend, Dan, sexually assaults her on a camping trip. She learns to push away the memories with partying and, later, sex. Dan re-enters the family's life when she's 17, and the confusion and pain from the assault comes rushing back. Skye engages in increasingly reckless behavior as her anger intensifies. When Dan starts taking an interest in Emma, Skye thinks she must give up her art school scholarship to stay at home and protect her little sister. Can Skye find the courage to tell her mother what Dan did to her and begin to heal?

Is it any good?

Laura Sibson's coming-of-age novel thoughtfully takes on issues of childhood sexual assault, substance abuse, and consent, as well as the complicated nature of healing from trauma. With its relatable teen characters and evocative, often beautiful prose, The Art of Breaking Things is a realistic story with a relevant message. Though Skye makes some unhealthy choices to cope, she grows towards responsible maturity over the course of the story. Creative teens will especially appreciate how Skye uses art to understand her experiences. Skye is a character that young people will surely root for.

Teens will also benefit from the novel's look at consent in several different situations. The message that consent must be freely and enthusiastically given comes through loud and clear. With its practical treatment of teen sexuality, the book doesn't underestimate or condescend to its young adult readers. A few metaphors can feel contrived, and there are some characters who don't seem to move the story forward, but on the whole, this is a well-written and compelling read.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the intense theme of sexual assault in The Art of Breaking Things. Is it important for kids -- even those who've never experienced sexual assault -- to read these types of stories? Why or why not?

  • How can art help people deal with their problems? How do you cope with issues? Who can you turn to? What other help is out there?

  • How does Skye grow over the course of The Art of Breaking Things? What motivates her to make positive changes? 

  • What other books, shows, or movies deal with sexual assault and consent? How might a novel like this be helpful?

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