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When Walker Children's sent me a finished copy of Breaking Beautiful for review, I opened it reverently, remembering how long and how fervently I anticipated this one. I've noticed that I tend to adore contemporary novels in that deeply emotional way that the books that REALLY affect you strike a person, and I just...had a feeling I was going to have quite an experience reading Jennifer Shaw Wolf's debut novel. She and I emailed back and forth a bit and I got to know her there and via Twitter, and within about the first 50 pages or so of Breaking Beautiful, I knew I was reading something truly special. Allie's story continued to touch my heart in a profound way the more I read, and slowly, I felt that Breaking Beautiful was pulling me in, so that I was seeing through Allie's eyes, suffering her broken heart, learning with her, and growing with her.
To me what stood out the most about Wolf's haunting novel were the characters. Of course Allie was an amazing main character - at once sympathetic and frustrating in the best way - and seemed very genuine and real to me. I also am a BIG fan of Blake, one of the secondary characters, and Allie's former best friend. I thought their bond was fabulously explored in a tender, mature way. I am a big sucker for romances where the two characters have a shared history, so Blake/Allie played on that and endeared themselves to me immediately. They'd never truly taken that step past friendship, but watching their relationship blossom was amazing. And then there's Allie's brother, Andrew, who was so well-developed and heart-achingly real. My heart absolutely broke for Andrew, and I really enjoyed all of his and Allie's scenes together. Between Allie's interactions with the men in her life I never knew whether to cry or hug someone.
That was especially true when Trip was involved, although I knew what I wanted to do to Trip. He was a selfish, cowardly asshole who I wanted to murder, in the slowest, most painful way possible. If Jennifer Shaw Wolf wanted to create a hate-inducing villain with Trip, she definitely succeeded. There was nothing redeemable about him, no point where I ever felt sorry for him. He was weak and horrible in how he treated Allie, which is show in increasingly vivid and painful flashbacks as Allie's memories of the night Trip died slowly resurface. I was so mad over the fact that no one knew how Trip really was - he was the darling of the entire town - and they all assumed that Allie's relationship with him was perfect, and that of course, even months and months later, she was wrong to think of moving on with Blake, who was able to come back into her life with Trip gone.
One thing I really disliked about Breaking Beautiful was the way Allie was treated, and not just by Trip. Wolf's handling of the abusive relationship between Trip and Allie was devastatingly real. No, my issue was with how Trip's friends stood by and let Trip hurt Allie and didn't do anything. And I HATED how distant and detached Allie's mother was. She had no idea what her daughter was going through, or who Trip really was. One of my pet peeves is bad parenting in literature - I know it goes on, but I feel like it's EVERYWHERE. Allie's dad wasn't a bad guy, but he just wasn't in the picture a lot, and I felt so bad for Allie, having only really her brother and Blake as a support system. I was really really happy to see her making friends and growing as a person, branching out and taking chances.
Breaking Beautiful is equal parts mystery and character study. I cried with Allie, and I cheered her on as she found her footing and her courage. Watching Allie - who'd been literally beaten down for so long - find the strength to chase after her own happiness regardless of what anyone else thought was rewarding and heartening. And along with all her character growth taking place, there is the mystery of Trip's death to solve, which played out VERY differently than I thought it would, in an ultimately startling but understandable manner. I didn't figure out what was going on, and I don't think many readers will. Jennifer Shaw Wolf did a great job with the whodunnit aspect of her novel.
In closing, if you don't have a copy of this book, other than a few flaws I found with it, I would advise you to read it. I have seen a few other bloggers who thought it was too slow, but myself, I enjoyed the pacing and the build-up. It doesn't matter to me HOW you read it - as a library book or if you buy a copy...but please don't pass on this one. Breaking Beautiful definitely deserves to be read by everyone!