Hi friends! You all know how much I’ve been loving thrillers recently, and I was lucky enough to pick up my library hold of Broken Things by Lauren Oliver (author of Panic and the Delirium series) before I took off on my holiday across Europe earlier this month.
This book combined my three favourite things: Young Adult, true crime, and fairytale books-within-books. If you enjoyed The Hazel Wood, with its creepy collection of fairy stories (now available in book form as Tales from the Hinterland) woven through, but kind of wish the stories had stayed fictional, then you might just like this book.
Long story short, I loved it. Keep reading to find out why!
It’s been five years since Summer Marks was brutally murdered in the woods.
Everyone thinks Mia and Brynn killed their best friend. That driven by their obsession with a novel called The Way into Lovelorn the three girls had imagined themselves into the magical world where their fantasies became twisted, even deadly.
The only thing is: they didn’t do it.
On the anniversary of Summer’s death, a seemingly insignificant discovery resurrects the mystery and pulls Mia and Brynn back together once again. But as the lines begin to blur between past and present and fiction and reality, the girls must confront what really happened in the woods all those years ago—no matter how monstrous.
Title: Broken Things
Author: Lauren Oliver
Rating: 4.5 stars!
I loved the voice in this book, it’s so strong and entirely YA, but the themes and plot are really dark and heavy. Lauren Oliver manages to balance the absolute worst of humanity (the brutal and ritualistic murder of a young girl) with plenty of humour and lighter moments, making this an exciting read with enough tension and suspense to keep me turning the pages late into the night (cue me having nightmares – worth it).
The story is split between the POVs of Mia, a quiet but incredibly strong eighteen-year-old whose mum has a bit of a hoarding problem, and her ex-friend Brynn, the acerbic, fake-addict who has spent the last few years hiding in institutions rather than face the wrath of her neighbours. Because Mia and Brynn have been judged guilty by the residents of their small town, despite never being convicted for the murder of their best friend when they were thirteen, and life in Twin Lakes has been unbearable ever since.
With the five-year anniversary approaching, Mia stumbles across the original copy of the book the trio were obsessed with as pre-teens, The Way Into Lovelorn, and starts to wonder all over again who could have known about their obsession and used it to kill their best friend. With the help of Brynn, a curvaceous beauty influencer called Abby, and Owen, the boy who was the original suspect back when the murder first happened, they set out to uncover the real murderer and the motive behind Summer’s death.
The novel is interspersed with sections from the classic fairytale book the girls loved, as well as snippets from the fan fiction they were writing, Return to Lovelorn. There are also flashbacks to the year it all happened, and extracts from the police interviews with those involved. The pace is quick with plenty of twists and turns, the plot never slowed or dragged, and the main characters were entirely credible (although some of the secondary characters, including the antagonist, sadly, are a little two-dimensional).
I enjoyed everything about this book, from all the dance references in Mia’s chapters, to the deliciously slow revelation of the toxic friendship the three girls shared, and the pressure-cooker style atmosphere Oliver created in their tiny, oppressive town. I knocked half a star off because I sussed the killer really early on, like on the second mention of the character (Oliver later makes it a bit too obvious by highlighting the girls’ method of naming the fictionalised characters in their fan fic), and I wasn’t wholly convinced by their motivations or explanation of the crime. But it didn’t detract from the book that much for me, it was more about the journey, and I actually wouldn’t have minded if there had been no big reveal – if the killer had never been uncovered or the truth had been that Summer’s death was a suicide as a result of her traumatic childhood. (Sorry if that’s a bit of a spoiler, but there is a real killer and they do get unmasked.)
There’s also lots of great representation in this book, Brynn is a lesbian and Abby is omnisexual. Plus Abby is described as “fat and very beautiful” and is regularly portrayed as attractive and desirable, from both Mia and Brynn’s perspectives. Themes include rehabilitation facilities, home schooling, foster care, mental illness, cosplay, alcoholism, hoarding disorder, child abuse, small towns, first love, self harm and the intensity of teenage friendships.
As far as trigger warnings go, if you’re sensitive to anything related to child sexual abuse, violence towards children, self harm, drink or drug abuse, then you might want to give this one a miss. Oliver doesn’t pull any punches, and while she doesn’t go so far as to graphically depict the murder or describe Summer’s injuries in too much detail, she doesn’t shy away from the emotional impact of what happened.
This was a brilliant thriller with a great cast of characters and a fast-paced plot, I really enjoyed the way the story peeled itself back, layer by layer, until the climax became almost inevitable. But my favourite thing about this book is Lauren Oliver’s writing. There are so many quotes I could give as an example, and you can take a look at the ones highlighted on Goodreads, but I’ll leave you with this one:
“In books, secret worlds are accessible by doors or keys or other physical objects. But Lovelorn was not such a world, and appeared at whim and only when it felt like it, with a subtle change like the slow shifting of afternoon to evening.”Lauren Oliver, Broken Things
If you adore invented fairytales or books-within-a-book, like The Tales of Beedle the Bard, The Language of Thorns and Tales From the Hinterland, or if you’re a true crime fan (check out Sadie by Courtney Summers!), or you just love a really well-written YA book with a strong voice, great characters and good mystery to unravel, then I highly recommend Broken Things!