Review: Broken Things by Lauren Oliver

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Publication: October 2nd 2018
Publisher: HarperCollins
Pages:  408 pages
Source: Library
Genre: Fiction, Mystery, Young Adult, Thriller, Contemporary
My Rating: ⛤⛤⛤⛤

“That’s the problem with lies. They aren’t solid. They melt, and seep, and leak into the truth. And sooner or later, everything’s going to muddle,” (Oliver 144).

Lauren Oliver is a writer who always seems to be pushing herself and her boundaries as an author. Her stories are consistently unique in their plots from telling the story of a haunted house through the perspective of the ghosts/house who move it or looking at a world where love is illegal, I’m always eager to see what new ideas Oliver will come up with.

Oliver pushes herself again in her newest novel Broken Things which takes a true crime story from the perspective of the accused though pleading innocent protagonists. Instead of focusing on the gruesomeness of the crime and murder in the story, Oliver asks readers to focus on how the protagonist’s lives have been warped and ruined after being accused of murder while also looking at the obsession people have gotten from the crime, and from themselves. With podcasts like My Favourite Murder and whole subreddits dedicated to missing persons, strange cases, and Buzzfeed lists galore of unsolved murders, it’s no wonder why true crime has become such a popular genre and why so many people online have become amateur detectives and these are all things Oliver explores and critiques in her latest novel.

Broken Things follows Mia and Brynn who five years before the story takes place were accused and acquitted of murdering their best friend Summer in the woods. The three friends were obsessed with a novel called The Way into Lovelorn and when Summer was murdered the media became convinced that Mia and Brynn killed their friend over their obsession with a fantasy world. Due to lack of evidence the girls weren’t convicted of murder which left their lives and that of their families threatened and damaged. But on the five year anniversary of Summer’s death Mia comes across a small discovery that could turn  the case around and clear hers and Brynn’s names, but they’ll have to do some digging first, and would anyone listen to two girls the world are convinced are murderers?

I can only guess takes some inspiration from the Slender Man stabbing and Heavenly Creatures, but regardless of its influence Oliver does a fantastic job of merging the two stories together into something that is believable, that one might expect to read on a true crime forum. And by focusing the story on that of the accused and how their lives have been affected by the accusation, the novel becomes wholly unique among a number of YA mystery thrillers that also try to solve murders.

Oliver also makes her story unique by including snippets of the fictional The Way Into Lovelorn between most of the perspective changes in the book and I loved it. It gives readers a peak into the fictional world that connected Mia, Brynn, and Summer, giving glimpses and perhaps a temptation into the novel that affected and destroyed so many lives in this fictional world.

One of my favourite things in the book was how Oliver does a fantastic job making the characters feel broken, because their lives do become so with the murder accusation. Their lives and they themselves are broken, but they don’t want to be. But Oliver makes sure to make Mia and Brynn characters that can be repairable despite how broken they feel at times in the novel. They are characters motivated to change their lives after years of it seeming hopeless. They want justice while at times feeling like the task is too much for them. The novel and characters are so incredibly human and comforting in their brokenness.

Mia and Brynn are also incredibly interesting characters and I loved reading about how different each of their lives were after the murder accusation and how differently they coped with it. I will say that though Mia and Brynn are very different characters their voices tended to blend too similarly at times, and except for their different back stories it would have been difficult to remember which perspective I was reading from.

But Oliver does have an unfortunate tendency to explain the overall themes in her books just before the story ends; at least that’s what I remember happening in her novel Rooms and it happened again here in Broken Things. While I understand where Oliver is coming from, as her themes tend to tie in with major plot points in her novels it seems that she just wants readers to be clear with what the story is really about, but it’s something that irks me about her writing. Let me figure out the theme, work through the metaphor, and analyze the text, let me study it. If I’m confused while trying to piece it all together I can search through similar discussions online but please give me the chance to figure out the story without a paragraph over explaining why certain character actions and plot points were written in such a way!

Though I hated having the theme of this novel literally explained for me near it’s ending there was so much I enjoyed about Broken Things. It’s a fantastic book for lovers of true crime and amateur detectives, asking readers that instead of looking at the crime to focus on who has been affected and how drastically the lives of those affected by tragedy can change.

Favourite Quotes:

“Words are snares to trip you and ropes to hang you on and whirling storms to confuse you and lead you the wrong way,” (Oliver 20).

“Luck is a funny thing like that. Like a coin whose two sides you can read at once,” (Oliver 72).

“Change is just another word for disappointment, you know” (Oliver 95).

“…I pluck at the thread with my fingers, wishing the past was like that – that you could just pull and pull until it unraveled and you could start over,” (Oliver 118).

“I always think of lying as a desire to hide the truth,” (Oliver 133).

“It sounds crazy, but sometimes I wished I had a nickname, even an obnoxious one, because it would mean that I existed, that someone noticed me,” (Oliver 138).

“It is a strange phrase, ‘falling in love,’…It sounds like something you do accidentally, by yourself. But isn’t someone else always to blame? They should call it strangling in love. Walloped in love. Knocked-out-of-nowhere in love,” (Oliver 155).

“That’s the thing with hearts…They’re the trickiest, troubledest things in the world,” (Oliver 215).

“That’s the thing about hearts. They don’t get put back together, not really. They just get patched. But the damage is still there,” (Oliver 259).

“That’s what heartbreak feels like: a little death,” (Oliver 261).

“The problem with fairy tales isn’t that they don’t exist. It’s that they do exist, but only for some people,” (Oliver 272).

“Sorry is one of the worst words of all: it hardly ever means what you want it to,” (Oliver 286).

“Secrets are like glue. They bind,” (Oliver 293).

“If only people could survive like that – totally alone. But they can’t. Not even shadows can,” (Oliver 297).

“Wishes are like lotto tickets – they never pay out,” (Oliver 315).

“Words are like a virus – there’s no telling what kind of damage they’ll do once they’re out,” (Oliver 327).

“August is the saddest month: nothing so perfect can possibly last forever,” (Oliver 354).

“If you’re lucky, you’re tolerated. And then you’re supposed to be grateful,” (Oliver 390).

“This is something I understand now. This is the miracle – of other people, of the whole world, of the mystery of it. That things can change. That people grow. That stories can be rewritten over and over, demons recast as heroes, and tragedies as grace,” (Oliver 404).

“And I am still midsentence,” (Oliver 407).

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