When Reason Breaks by Cindy L. Rodriguez
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Received for review from Netgalley.
I'm not really sure what to think about this book. It had some interesting aspects that really drew me in, but overall, I was left with a kind of 'eh' feeling about it.
This is a book about 2 girls and their teacher, who teaches Emily Dickinson for English class. Both girls have their troubles. Elizabeth has a bad family life and acts out at school and at home, and is a mild trouble-maker and sort of hardened. Emily is quiet and a bit meek, stifled by her politician father and largely ignored by the rest of her family. They bond over Emily Dickinson.
I loved the Emily Dickinson theme that ran through it. It was a cool exploration of her life and her poetry, even though I've never been a big fan. I liked the girls' relationship with each other and with their teacher. But...
This book felt shallow. It deals with big issues (children effected by actions of their parents--divorced, adulterous, controlling, gay), a girl growing apart from her childhood friends, first love/sex, sibling relationships, friendship, suicide, depression, a pregnancy scare, etc, without really getting into any one of them. I feel like any of those issues could have been the entire plot of the book, but with so much going on, nothing was explored with any depth. The two main characters barely speak for most of the book, and I never felt I knew either of them very well. I picked up on Emily's depression and Elizabeth's frustration, but I never felt those along with the characters. I never felt outraged on their behalf. Emily was almost a fully developed character, enough that I shed a tear or two for her. But I never got inside her head, esp. with her relationship with her boyfriend. He was a regular guy--a cutup in class but sweet to her, and I loved him for being a real guy and not one of those annoyingly perfect YA boys. But I never felt her emotion towards him. She gave up her friendships with her two best friends to hang out with him, but why? I could barely tell she liked him. Mostly she isolated because of her depression, so her relationship with him didn't feel real. And Elizabeth just seemed too erratic and all over the place. I didn't dislike her, I just didn't care, which is much worse when I'm reading a book.
Another problem was that it's told from several points of view, and there's a lot of head hopping instead of moving from one scene/chapter to another before switching to a new character. And the past/present tense switches were confusing and seemed at random much of the time. It made scenes more complicated and disjointed than they needed to be, and disrupted the flow of the narrative.
Reading this was kind of like beta reading a draft of someone's novel that just doesn't have a plot. It feels like the author tries way too hard to tie all the Emily Dickinson stuff in and ends up with a novel that doesn't feel authentic. It's like when someone writes a book to make a point, with the story being secondary. Which never works for me.
Overall, this was a novel with some important issues to discuss, but it fails in the execution. I wish it had been a beta read, because then I'd have more hope that it would be excellent after a lot of work. It has the potential to be awesome, but as is, it's just okay.
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