Publication: February 23rd 2017
Publisher: Farrar, Straus, & Giroux Inc.
Pages: 336 pages
Genre: Fiction, Young Adult, Contemporary, Mystery
My Rating: ⛤⛤
“Everyone wanted to touch us. Including you. So remember the seven places you touched me. That’s where you’ll find the truth. In my words.
Start at the beginning” (Savage 12).
Oh boy, where do I begin.
The synopsis of this book offered so much. It sounded like a mix of Thirteen Reasons Why and The Virgin Suicides when ultimately it doesn’t hold a candle to them (or at least The Virgin Suicides. I haven’t read Thirteen Reasons Why. Yet.).
Beautiful Broken Girls follows Ben who is grieving over the joint suicides of his secret girlfriend Mira and her sister Francesca. A week or so after their suicide, Ben gets a note from Mira telling him to go to the seven places he touched her to find more notes and answers to what led to her and her sister’s deaths. But Ben’s understanding of the notes is shadowed by his own past when he was touched by a couch as a child. But is Ben reading the note’s right, or are the death’s of the Cillo girls even more complicated than he thought?
The book follows three perspective’s: Ben’s as he tries to piece together what Mira’s notes mean, and Mira and Francesca’s showing the months up to their suicide, giving context to what the notes means which…is kind of pointless isn’t it? This is marketed as a mystery, but there isn’t a mystery to solve when you give the mystery a voice. Now, Mira and Francesca’s narratives don’t give everything away right away, I still questioned some things but it all became pointless about half-way through when it became obvious through Mira and Francesca’s narratives what the notes meant. The book would have been a lot stronger without those narratives, and I’m really not sure why they were left in.
Before I start talking about anything else about this book, I need to talk about the constant way Savage talks about people being “touched” in the novel, because it just isn’t done right. From the synopsis alone even before we open the book we know that Ben was sexually abused by a couch as a child, but throughout the novel Savage uses these words to describe Ben’s trauma: touched, twiddled, special. The only word I can kind of understand being used is “twiddled” to imply what happened in a more innocent sounding way, but “touched” and “special” are not words I, or anyone I think, would use to describe someone who has been sexually abused. You know where the words “touched” and “special” are used? In religious settings, which is obviously the point of the novel. I obviously understand that Savage was trying to make a point by using the words “touched” and “special” to have various meanings, but they have to have those meanings in the first place, you can’t just create a implications for words that don’t already exist.
Also in Ben’s perspective he talked a lot about how people always called him “touched” or “special” or treated him different because of what happened to him in the past, but no one ever says this to him in the novel. His friends and his family are fully supportive of him and don’t bring up his past trauma, the only person who does
is the Cillo’s father, and even that doesn’t cause an issue! Ben let’s him say his horrible things, and leaves!
Alright, I’m done ranting about language. Let’s get on to the novel.
None of the characters in this novel were developed (also, where the hell did Eddie “Ben’s Best Friend” go? He disappeared half-way through the book!), and their was definitely potential for that, especially for Ben. He was still the most developed character of the bunch, but still pretty hollow and simple. All we know is that he was sexually abused at a young age, he was secretly dating Mira (but is it really dating if they only saw each other seven times?), and he’s upset that Mira’s notes aren’t about him. We get a vague idea of his fears and insecurities with how he projects his past trauma on Mira’s notes, but it still isn’t enough. Also, Ben can be pretty damn creepy sometimes. Here’s how he describes his “want” of Mira:
“More and more, he found himself thinking about the insides of Mira, healthy, pink organs and long, smooth muscle wall. The parts of Mira no one saw…He imagined glistening blood cells, villi waving like sea anemone, velvety mucosa. Turn Mira inside out, smear his hands inside” (Savage 194).
To anyone reading this: if anyone ever says the above passage to you in a way that they feel is romantic, RUN AWAY! RUN AWAY AS FAST AS YOU CAN!
Mira and Francesca could have been developed more to, or more to the point, shouldn’t have had perspectives to begin with. In Savage’s acknowledgements at the end of the book, she begins by saying “Beautiful Broken Girls is inspired by the work of Virginia Woolf, who gave my teenage self the words, finally, to describe the male gaze” (Savage 319).
At points of the novel, Savage does this well, particularly at the beginning before reader’s know Mira and Francesca will have a voice, when all we hear about the Cillo girl’s comes from the men in the novel. We hear one of Ben’s friends say that the Cillo’s suicide were a waste of hot bodies, and even comments not directed at the Cillo girl’s like Mr. Falso who says, “You want something, you go for it. That goes for the ladies, too” (Savage 147). Even Ben shows it when the novel says that “Mira made a gruff noise and buried her face in his chest: self-conscious, Ben figured. The truly beautiful ones always were” (Savage 140).
All these points prove is that Savage did start out trying to make a point about the male gaze, but adding the Cillo girl’s perspectives takes away from that because then we the reader’s see them for who they are. What made The Virgin Suicide’s such a good novel was that we saw the male narrator and his friends watching the Lisbon girls, trying to figure them out, but never really knowing what went on inside their head, never understanding why they killed themselves. With Beautiful Broken Girls we have a better idea of why Mira and Francesca killed themselves, no concrete answers but a few ideas for why. The only reason I can think of Savage including the Cillo’s perspectives was to show that the girl’s were very flawed, maybe even cruel, people.
Was this the author’s point? To show that these flaws and contrast it with their idolization? That even after their death they remained idolized because they were beautiful girls? Because this could have been done so much better, but the Cillo’s flaws are quickly passed over. First off, Mira mentions she’s interested in Ben
BECAUSE HE WAS SEXUALLY ABUSED AND SHE COULD SAVE HIM! Don’t believe me? Here you go: “Mira loved him more for the damage inflicted on him, the kind of damage that her touch might heal” (Savage 133). What the heck Mira?! I mean, a couple lines after this she realizes her thoughts are wrong, but still!
There’s also the teeny tiny revelation that
MIRA AND FRANCESCA “ACCIDENTALLY” KILLED THEIR COUSIN BY PUSHING HER SO THAT HER “LIFE-THREATENING EXERCISE-INDUCED ALLERGY” (Savage’s words, not mine) ACTS UP AND SHE DIES WHEN FRANCESCA ISN’T ABLE TO SAVE HER.
And then there’s the fact that at the end she
SUFFOCATES A KITTEN! AND SHE DOES IT SO NON-NONCHALANTLY, JUST SMOTHERS IT WITH HER FINGERS AND PUTS IT BACK TO BED.
Also, can I just say, why can we only talk about the male gaze in relation to dead girls? Especially to dead girls who are/were beautiful?
Beautiful Broken Girls attempts to create a story about the male gaze and it’s danger to women, but ultimately fails. While Savage starts out by showing the misogynistic ways women are viewed, the flat characters and lack of mystery ultimately leaves an unsatisfying and disappointing story.