Estelle: Breaking Beautiful by Jennifer Shaw Wolf

Breaking Beautiful by Jennifer Shaw Wolf (website | twitter)
UPCOMING Publication Date: April 24, 2012
Publisher: Walker Children’s
Pages: 354
Target audience: Mature young adult
Format read: Netgalley eBook

Summary:  Tripp and Allie seemed like the perfect couple to the whole world but there was another layer to their relationship that no one knew about. When Tripp dies in a car accident (one that Allie is also injured in), she hopes to keep all her bad memories with Tripp buried. But his presence just seems to get stronger and stronger, especially after she starts getting notes in her locker in his handwriting. Will she ever be able to let go?

I don’t remember the last time I stayed up past my bedtime to finish a book. It was probably five years ago when I was still in college. At least. So the fact that I stayed up way past midnight on a weeknight to finish Breaking Beautiful (on the same day I started it) should mean something. It should mean a lot. (Because as if that wasn’t enough, it kept me up for another half hour thinking about it.)

A book with this kind of premise could easily turn into a Lifetime movie, soaking in cliché. In fact, after reading other reviews, this was my fear. Getting hooked on a book was one thing but I wanted it to be because the story was actually good, not because it was like a train wreck I couldn’t peel my eyes away from.

I’m happy to say it did not cross into the realm of Lifetime television but did a solid job of exploring some tough themes without much sugar coating or fairy tale endings.

Who knows? Maybe I’ve had the pleasure of knowing people who are repeatedly dealt blows by life but I had no problem believing Allie could have experienced all of these hardships in real life: an abusive relationship, bullying, a car accident that killed her boyfriend (a night she has totally blocked out of her memory), and a disabled twin brother – sure, it’s a lot. But Allie’s reactions to all of these situations were reasonable and realistic. She had good things in her life too – an old friend named Blake and a super close relationship with her brother, Andrew. It’s no surprise that her “hidden life” has clouded those good things. She is constantly questioning her own worth and who wouldn’t after the boyfriend you loved (and you believed loved you back) treated you with such cruelty?

As a reader, it is so frustrating to watch as Allie lies, covers up, avoids, and hides when she could be telling the truth. That frustration we feel means that the author is doing a killer job at making us feeling exactly what Allie is going through, and most importantly, those around her who care just want her to get better and be happy again.

One of the book’s main themes is control. Tripp’s parents are rich and have a lot of clout (too much) on the small town. So there’s that and Allie’s desperation to take control of her life, the lack of physical control her brother may have, and the power Tripp’s ghost and their memories have on Allie as she attempts to move on. Control is a funny thing. Everyone wants it and when they get it, there is no telling what might happen. Some may even surprise you.

In a way, this book is part mystery. We discover the events of the accident along with Allie as she is able to remember and confront more of her demons. Until the end, I did not find the revealed events to be predictable at all. The author did a commendable job of weaving memories with the present day and also keeping the suspense and tension high. (And this is why I needed a caffeine drip the morning after I finished it.)

I’m not going to lie. Many of the events in this book are terrifying. The helplessness that Allie feels, her mom’s allegiance to Tripp’s family and her legacy to the town, the utter desperation so many of these characters feel. Even once I hit the last page, that desperation and fear felt like it was haunting me. Breaking Beautiful reveals the bleakest depths of the human spirit and the not so pretty process it takes to get back to feeling like you. And we can’t go around ignoring that the bad exists.

I hope Shaw is busy at work on her next book, because after reading Breaking Beautiful, it will certainly make its way on my list.

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