A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that The Brokenhearted is a dark teen read that includes mature content across the board. The sex comes in early when the main character, Anthem, sleeps with her boyfriend before he's kidnapped. It's not described in detail, but she also faces threats of sexual violence from an ex-boyfriend who blackmails her. Violence is prevalent, from when Anthem gets a new heart in a back-alley lab to when she decides to use the super-strength and agility the new heart gives her to get revenge against her boyfriend's kidnappers. She usually just beats up and ties up thugs for the police, but she ends up killing two people, as well. Two others are shot, with much blood loss described. Also in the dark mix: plenty of drugs, drinking, and smoking. Privileged kids abuse "study drugs," Anthem's parents abuse alcohol and mood-lifting pills, Anthem's friends smoke and drink, and Anthem drinks. Swearing is consistent with the rest of the mature content; a few handfuls of words (forms of "bitch," "ass," and "s--t," along with "hell," "damn," "prick," and "Holy Christ") but no "F" bombs. Anthem's quest for revenge fits the book's dark mood, but she does start to see a higher purpose to her vigilantism: She can help fight crime and corruption in her troubled city.
What's the story?
Anthem Fleet is a straight-A student and amazing ballerina with all the reason for rebellion she needs in the form of checked-out, upper-crust parents. She skips a formal dance with her perfect-looking boyfriend to meet her friend Zahra on the wrong side of town -- the excessively crime-ridden South Side of Bedlam -- for a real party. She immediately meets the wrong guy on the dance floor and falls for him over numerous afternoons sneaking out of ballet practice. Sneaking out one night to sleep at his house, she's awoken by kidnappers who take her boyfriend and demand ransom or he's dead. But that's not the worst of it: Running home she fights with a drug addict and falls over a bridge into icy water. She wakes up in a secret back-alley lab and is told that her heart stopped completely and a doctor named Jax gave her an experimental heart she'd been working on, with some serious advancements. Now Anthem can run super-fast and jump extra-high and, with some training, can fight the kidnappers and anyone else from the South Side who gets in her way. Vigilante by night, prima ballerina by day. Of course, she can't keep her two identities completely separate forever.
Is it any good?
OK, the good twists at the end of THE BROKENHEARTED definitely bring some excitement. Unfortunately, the potential for superhero origin story greatness was already lost in the rest of the book. Pieces seem missing or come too late in the story. Missing: a good description of Bedlam City. Why are there both futuristic body modifications and clunky old cell phones? Where are we supposed to be in time? Too late and not enough: the folklore around The Hope, the original vigilante. Never: a plausible and pseudo-scientific-enough reason that Anthem's heart is part animal AND can somehow give her powers. Too late: backstories of Ford and Jax; we miss how important these characters are to the story.
With these missing and too-late elements, the story doesn't gel as it should. Also, readers often go with Anthem on her long revenge sprees and are left to wonder: What happened to ballet practice? School? Won't she get in trouble? And what about this crazy heart of hers -- isn't it dangerous? Never once does Anthem feel it may harm her or be too much for her. She literally runs off the operating table, down the street, ready to rumble -- that fact alone makes it much harder for readers to follow her.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about superheroes. Do you see Anthem as a superhero? She's never called that, but what traits are similar? For starters, why is keeping her identity a secret so important to her?
Why do you think humans gaining superpowers from non-human body parts is a common theme in science fiction? Can you think of other sci-fi stories where this happens?
What characteristics does Bedlam share with our society? What's different? Do you think it's a dystopia? Why or why not? What about a city like this makes its people crave a hero figure?
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