Broken Hearts, Fences, and Other Things to Mend by Katie Finn ( web | tweet )
Book 1 in a series.
Publication Date: May 13, 2014
Publisher: Feiwel + Friends
Target audience: Young adult
Keywords: summer, Hamptons, old friendships, secret identities
Format read: ARC from Publisher via NetGalley! (Thanks!)
Summary: Unexpectedly single for the summer and her original plans changed, Gemma’s mom & stepdad ship her off to her screenwriter dad in the Hamptons. Even though it’s been years, Gemma is nervous about this new development because the last time she was in the Hamptons she did some terrible things and wonders if they will all come back to haunt her. So when she finds herself on the train with her ex-best friend’s brother and he mistakes her for someone else, Gemma thinks pretending to be Sophie (her best friend from home) for the summer is a great idea.
My own truths about Broken Hearts, etc.:
1. I guessed the outcome of the book before the halfway mark.
2. I did not connect with any of the characters or their relationships.
3. I still read until the end of the book.
I started Broken Hearts with certain expectations because Katie Finn is Morgan Matson’s pen name and she has been nothing but a total delight in my reading life. But I found myself muttering something very surprising as I read this: I don’t think I’m the right audience for this book. I rarely feel “old” when I read young adult because there are so many feelings that parallel how I feel in my life today and also remind me of some of the brighter and tougher moments from my childhood. (I’m not the kind of person who doesn’t want to remember things so this is a positive.)
But I had to suspend a lot of reality to believe an 11-year old Gemma could be so vindictive without consequences or without an utter breakdown on her part. I know that young kids can get themselves into messes but unlike an adult who engages in this kind of behavior, I think it’s more likely for a child of that age to give in and fall apart because things are so out of control. But instead, she gets away with the awful things she does even though she still feels guilty years and years later. (Not guilty enough to fess up, even as she “matured.”)
I found myself thinking a lot about movies I like where characters take on another identity in a situation that affects a lot of people. Two that popped in my head were Ladybugs (Jonathon Brandis pretends to be a girl for a soccer team season) and Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead (The babysitter dies, everyone is scared to do anything about it, so Christina Applegate’s character lies on her resume and gets a fashion job for the summer to take care of her siblings while her mom is away on vacation). These are both highly entertaining films where I still feel for the characters in these impossible and improbable situations, and that’s what was missing for me in Broken Hearts. The characters and the relationships were not funny or genuine enough; the scenes, instead, felt like they were moving full-steam ahead (into more and more dubious situations) and losing all those important details along the way.
Even if the book is meant to be breezy and fun, I still want to connect with the characters. That’s the bottom line.
Another nudging feeling that I couldn’t shake during Broken Hearts was how other books I’ve read conquered this kind of premise better. Here are two:
- Burn for Burn by Jenny Han and Siobhan Vivian: While I wasn’t fully invested in this series until book 2, it balanced deception and fully developed side plots (friendship, relationships, fears, etc.) in a way that even made me care for the “bad guy”. The potential for this happening in Broken Hearts was there (Josh, Gemma’s relationship with her dad) but never fully realized.
- Rules of Summer by Joanna Philbin: an authentic Hamptons-in-the-summer book. I don’t understand the choice to use a real locale if you aren’t going to work to get the tiny details correct. (Maggie at Just a Couple More touches upon that in her review.)
All in all, Broken Hearts wasn’t my cup of (iced) tea and I won’t be continuing the series. As a reader, you just can’t love them all.