I’ve got another young adult book to talk about today! And that book is Other Broken Things by C. Desir. I’ve been getting a little sick of YA novels lately (especially the last one I read), but I more or less liked this one. It had a couple of common YA issues that prevented it from being better, but I’ll get to those in a little while. For now, let’s get right into the story.
Other Broken Things is about a recovering alcoholic named Natalie. She’s 17 and after a car accident, she needs to attend AA meetings, do community service, work through her struggle with a sponsor, and, well… recover.
She has a boyfriend, Brent, who keeps trying to talk with her about something but she doesn’t want to deal with him. Brent’s kind of a weird character, because he acts like he’s only interested in Natalie for sex and partying but then does a 180 and gets serious about the two of them when he’s done flirting or joking around. He came off as a douche at first, but I wasn’t really sure what to make of him by the end of the book.
Natalie also only has two other friends, Amy and Amanda. Apparently the three of them were intoxicated at all hours of the day, bringing vodka and orange juice in water bottles to class and partying immediately after school. They’re not really good friends, and keep pressuring Natalie to go back to her old ways.
Her parents hooked up some kind of breathalyzer to her car so it won’t start without her passing the test. Her mom is a housewife who tries to help Natalie as best she can with positivity and support, although naturally Natalie finds her overbearing and obnoxious. Her dad is a rich doctor or some other wealthy profession who’s embarrassed of his daughter and the bad reputation he’s bringing to the family.
So aside from her mother, Natalie doesn’t really have anyone to rely on to help get her through her recovery. Which naturally frustrates the crap out of her and makes everything she’s trying to accomplish even harder. The only two people that really help her are fellow AA members: Kathy, her no-nonsense sponsor who meets with Natalie for weekly “therapy” sessions, and Joe, a 38-year-old man that acts more like a friend than any of the other people her age. Natalie is attracted to Joe, despite being twice her age, and flirts with him but he keeps his wall up and tries to be her supportive friend rather than a fuck buddy.
Most of this book involves Natalie physically and mentally struggling with her recovery while dealing with her relationships with these other characters. We discover more about her as new details are sprinkled throughout the plot. For example, she got into the accident because she was driving Brent home because he was drunk, even though she was too. We learn that she was really into boxing when she was younger, and that it began as a bonding experience with her father, but he forced her to quit when she became too good and that’s why she started drinking. We also learn she has a very addictive personality and is the type of person to either give all or nothing.
Which brings us to Joe. She falls for him and eventually convinces him to sleep with her. Joe had been developing feelings for Natalie too, but had kept his cool about it until she advanced enough. He immediately regrets it because he knows a relationship with her would never work because of the age difference, but Natalie has convinced herself that they belong together. Her parents find out and naturally flip out and ban her from seeing him again. Joe disappears and falls off the wagon for a while. Natalie eventually sees him again, but he tells her he’s going to accept a job overseas. Natalie’s heartbroken, but she’s taken up boxing again and is doing better in general so the book ends on a hopeful note.
Overall, I enjoyed reading Other Broken Things. I really like how the book explored alcoholism, especially with a teenage character. I also liked some of lessons explored in Natalie’s AA sessions, like how you can’t waste energy trying to change things out of your own control. Sometimes they’re really great universal pieces of advice in general, and I like how they’re used in the context of the book. They’re for Natalie in the context of overcoming her addiction, but I think people outside her situation can get something positive from here as well.
There were, however, some noticeable issues that ultimately became a little distracting for me. And they’re all universal YA literature problems. For starters, let’s start with the parents. They’re two extremes of typical YA parents. On one side, the mother is almost blindingly supportive of her daughter on almost every single thing she does. And while I don’t think it’s unrealistic for a parent to be extra supportive of a child going through what Natalie’s going through, I think the way she’s portrayed is still too much on the optimistic side.
To her credit, she shows some character development as she learns to stop acting blind and stand up to her husband, who’s the no-nonsense, only-cares-about-money, “villainous” parent. He treats Natalie like crap and only shows frustration and embarrassment towards his daughter’s struggle. But I don’t really understand why. I mean yeah, some parents are like that but in a work of fiction I need some additional or better reasons for his actions. He honestly just feels like an antagonist plopped into the story in the event Natalie’s alcoholism wasn’t a good enough one.
The side characters also aren’t particularly interesting. Amy and Amanda are literally interchangeable; they’re both heavy drinkers and partyers that only want to enable Natalie. I like how the book tries to show how toxic enabling friends are, but they’re not very important. Natalie honestly talks about them more than we actually see them.
Brent’s a little more interesting I guess, but he seems more like a way to talk about Natalie’s other issue. For the first half of the book there were a lot of allusions to some big, stressful event between Natalie and Brent. Usually this kind of thing in YA literature ends up involving a baby or rape. Here it’s an unplanned pregnancy. The accident killed the fetus and Natalie refuses to talk about it with Brent, who really wants to talk about what happened and why she didn’t tell him about it until the night of the accident.
This doesn’t feel like unnecessary drama in a story where Natalie already had enough to work through, but it did feel kind of weak. Since I kind of saw it coming the reveal didn’t have much of an impact on me. But beyond that Natalie honestly doesn’t seem bothered by it. It’s only Brent that cares, and Brent’s such a minor character. So why include this subplot at all? If it was more developed into Natalie’s character this would be a different story, but as it is it seems… meh.
Finally, there’s Joe. Joe brought me a mixed bag of feelings. There’s definitely visible chemistry going on between him and Natalie, but since the book was more or less playing it safe I honestly didn’t think they’d hook up. But they did. I really didn’t think Other Broken Things would make such a risky move like pairing up a 17-year-old girl and 38-year-old guy, but it did and I have to give the book credit for taking it that far. I was really excited to see how everyone in the story was going to respond to this. I thought this was where the most interesting parts of the book would be.
But sadly, it wasn’t. I mean her parents rightfully flip out, but… that’s it. Not only that, Joe sort of disappears from the plot for the rest of the book. I can understand the reasoning — he just slept with a teenager and that’s definitely not good — but he also kind of turns into a jerk. The supportive, older role model part of him just sort of disappeared. Like I get how awkward and guilty he feels, and that’s going to affect how he behaves but… I dunno. Something felt off about him after they had sex.
I didn’t expect them to stay together, but I believed they really did have feelings for each other. A while ago I talked about a book called Lolito, which had an adult woman and teenage boy have sex and become involved in something of a relationship. And despite it being morally wrong, I admitted that I ended up believing their feelings were real and was unsure how wrong it ultimately was since they both wanted what they were doing. I also wondered if it was because the teenager was a boy and questioned how I would feel if the genders were reversed.
But in the case of Natalie and Joe, I can feel the same way as I did with the couple in Lolito. They’re not nearly as well developed or portrayed as the characters in Lolito, but I honestly did believe their feelings and was rooting for them. Like I said though, I didn’t think it would work. Feelings aside, I know the age difference is going to kill the relationship at some point. But since the book took things as far as sleeping with each other, I really wanted Natalie and Joe to at least try dating for a while. Have Natalie see firsthand why they wouldn’t work out, you know? But Joe just disappears, shows up again to say they can’t be together, and leaves again. And it felt really weak.
I know I’ve been bitching about problems more than singing its praises, but I did enjoy Other Broken Things enough. I think it was a good YA novel, but it was one of those books that I really wish did more so it could be greater. I’d give it a read if you come across it. It’s pretty short and reads fast, and there’s enough in it to enjoy. But if you’re not into YA, then I’m not sure if you’d get much from it.
Thanks for reading, and I hope you’re having a great week! 🙂
Info for my edition of Other Broken Things:
Published 2016 by Simon Pulse
Hardcover, 256 pages