"Broken Things" by Lauren Oliver
Teens have a way of... Fixating... On things.
And they don't just like these things.
They develop full-on obsessions.
Even more paradoxically, there is often no rhyme or reason as to what they become undyingly dedicated to.
I recall, in my own teen years, my two best friends and I having an unexplained affinity for an odd show, Bananas in Pajamas.*
*I would say, “Um… were we high or something?” But I already know the answer… because, as of this point in our lives, the closest anyone in my immediate circle of friends had come to trying drugs was snorting a crushed up starbucks mint… something she immediately regretted for very obvious reasons.
In response to our obsession, my friends and I assigned each member of our group a character from this ill begotten show. Heather was B1 and Emily was B2, or vice versa, and I was the bear, Lulu.
Now, fortunately for us, this interest only manifested itself in the watching of the show and the purchasing of stuffed animals, one for each of us, signifying our assigned characters.
Sometimes, though, teenage penchants aren't so benign.
Such was the case in this novel, when three best friends - not wholly dissimilar to me and my friends - developed an infatuation with a long-ago penned book and dedicate themselves to writing a sequel.
It all started when foster-child Summer came to town. Enigmatic and captivating, she quickly endears herself to classmates Mia and Brynn.
It’s Summer who introduces these girls to A Way into Lovelorn, showing them a tattered copy of the book — a novel detailing a mystical land that belonged to her biological mother and remains one of the only things she’s carried with her as she’s traveled from foster home to foster home.
Even the book sounds pretty lame, TBH (in fairness, I don’t really like fantasy) Mia and Brynn quickly become as attached to the tale as Summer. It’s not long before all three girls start escaping into the woods and playing out their desire to live in the mythical world described in the novel.
As much as they love the book, though, there is one thing that remains a frustration — the unsatisfying ending.
This is a frustration I can entirely empathize with, as unsatisfying endings leave me feeling there’s a hole in me that only carbs can fill.
When it comes to A Way into Lovelorn, however, the ending is, honestly, more than just unsatisfying. It’s non-existent. In fact, the book contains no conclusion at all. It just… stops.
Feeling an uncontrollable desire to know where this story goes, the girls set out to write their own sequel, a passion project they call A Return to Lovelorn.
But what starts off as an innocent pastime evolves into something more. As the sequel comes together, each girl contributing parts but Summer contributing the most, the girls increasingly insert themselves into the story resulting in a spiraling obsession with the world of Lovelorn.
Quite unexpectedly, this comes to a deadly climax when Summer is found, dead, in the woods.
After a short (and TBH “Making a Murder” level of shoddy) police investigation it is decided that Mia and Brynn must have worked together to kill Summer.
Fast forward five years and both girls are still carrying with them the scars left by the poorly healed wounds from childhood.
As the anniversary of Summer’s death approaches, they mutually decide that now, once and for all, they need to put this to bed.
They know they didn’t kill Summer.
But they don’t know who did.
Now is the time, they decide, to figure it out.
First of all, as I can only assume is the case with most people who read this book, as soon as I read the plot summary, I immediately thought about the Slenderman Girls — who I can only logically assume were the inspiration for this novel.
In case you’ve been living under a rock — or, maybe, aren’t obsessed with crime-y news programs — the two girls to whom I’m referring attacked and tried to murder their friend to appease the mythical Slenderman (learn more about it, here).
Unlike in this novel, however, the friend survived. Also, unlike this novel, it appears that the perpetrators of the slenderman-appeasing crime won’t be back on the streets any time soon.
Despite the fact that I watch a lot… and I mean a fucking lot of news programs, I still remember being captivated by this story.
Like… they were 12… and they literally planned a murder...to please slenderman...and they almost killed their friend.
I couldn’t fathom it.
I still can’t fathom it. (and I’m like, a really good fathomer)
Because of my inability to fathom, I was immediately intrigued by how closely this fictional tale seemed to mirror the factual one.
So, as I dove into the book, I did so eagerly.
And, initially, I wasn’t disappointed.
I found it believable that, though basically getting no punishment as a result of a legal technicality, the quality of both girls’ lives had been inarguably diminished by this blotch, both bold and indelible, that now rests on their respective records.
Despite not having a problem with drugs, Brynn has managed to fake a drug addiction and has spent years moving from rehab home to rehab home, clearly running from something she will never escape.
Similarly, Mia has spent her five years cloistered in her home, hiding among mountains of trash collected by her hoarding mom.
Though Summer might have been the only one who lost her life, Brynn and Mia basically might as well have.
The roundness of these characters — the believability of the so-called-lives they’ve had since their best friend’s death — was the definite strength of this novel.
Unfortunately, it also contributed to the weakness.
Because these characters were so rich, I expected a lot from them. I expected this sweeping, dynamic change and I was eager to see how the author would do this gracefully — how she would show us, the readers, Brynn and Mia’s dual metamorphoses from wounded girls to battle-tested women.
But… she pretty much never did.
Sure, things happened in the novel.
Ultimately, a resolution (of sorts) was reached.
But, even at the end, there remained a fucking lot that was never unpacked.
Given the almost cavernous depths of these characters, there was so much that could have been explored. And I feel like Oliver only took her readers spelunking through about 3% of the massive cave systems that made up these two girls.
Ultimately, if she had been explored more — dug a little deeper — it would have added the depth I was so desperately seeking.
When I neared the end, and it became painfully clear to me that we wouldn’t really get much deeper into these characters, I grew increasingly frustrated. I just wanted to scream, "THESE CHARACTERS ARE SO FUCKING FULL. THERE IS SO MUCH POTENTIAL. WHY? WHY AREN’T YOU DIGGING IN?"
Overall, as a mystery, this novel was effective-ish.
But, just as Brynn, Mia and Summer longed for the non-existent ending to A Way into Lovelorn, you’ll wish for an ending that simply isn’t provided by this author.
It earns a sadly underwhelming 2 out of 5 cocktails.
Even though they don’t (usually) kill for them, all teens seem to have decidedly deep — and oddly unexplainably — obsessions. Thinking back on your teen years, was there anything that you really formed an odd attachment to? Tell me about it in the comments, below.