Shoutout to The Duckbill Blog, for commenting on my Summer Reading List and suggesting Unbroken, a book that rendered me speechless and touched my heart and soul. Three cheers for Nandita Nambi!
The author has done an amazing job of portraying a teenager’s mental drama and angst.(like Dumbledore says.. “Just because it is happening in your mind doesn’t mean it is not real” ).
..and without romance. So First YAY!!! for YA novel without romance. Yes, there are a whole bunch of heart-wrenching romance and even action stories with touching romances, I’ve read quite a few. The Fault in Our Stars (Hazel and Augustus), The House of Hades (both Percabeth and Percico), The Lost Oracle (Solangelo), and of course, The Cursed Child (Scorbus, duh.) (Parents, you don’t need to look this up if you don’t already know. It’s a teenage thing.). But I was really glad the novel steered cleared of diluting this experience with an ill fitting romantic interest.
The characters are well-crafted, completely realistic and relatable. The book is not much about the events, but the whirlwind of emotions that wrap around you. And our protagonist, Akriti, is the centre of it all. She’s rude, mean, aggressive, sarcastic and doesn’t care about her studies or other people’s feelings. Then she has a ridiculously perfect younger brother, and her parents fight. She sketches (dark of course) and listens to music, shutting out the rest of the world. Just another petulant teen stuck in her daily troubles? …but wait.
Can you blame her? She’s paralysed from the waist down. But at no point does the author try to make her likable , rise above her pain heroically or arouse our sympathy. (Quite unlike Wonder where you are rooting for Augustus).
The story is from her POV and her anger, frustration and disgust seethes through her pain. As I read, finding her behaviour largely unacceptable yet I could see myself there.. wanting to be strong rather than wallow in sympathy, angry rather than accept her pain, be scary rather than get hurt.
What I loved ? While talking about disability in an honest and unpatronizing way itself is no mean feat, here are a few other aspects I loved:
- Sibling Rivalry – Don’t you hate it when your sibling can do stuff that you can’t? Whether it’s effortlessness completing a jigsaw puzzle that took you hours or churning out amazing projects done in the last minute, for which you take weeks, living in the shadow of your sibling is something a kid never wants to face. Forget the accomplishments, how do you deal with it when they are just a better human being than you are?
Yet beneath the permanent tiff and I -wish- you- weren’t- born, there is an inexplicable deep love and those tender moments between brother and sister ..reminded me grudgingly of a few of my own.
- Fights between Parents/ elders – The pain and the torture of having the very people who are supposed to be raising you, fighting and blaming each other… for your mistakes? Really, while I saw her shut them out sometimes, label them and even exploit them, I pondered about similar arguments and what I may have thought of them inadvertently.
- Seeing a Shrink – Again a rather rarely written about topic, a child who sees a psychiatrist when she is not crazy or has not had a nervous or emotional breakdown yet...simply because sometimes the expertise helps and sometimes having a neutral person makes it much each to talk. ..or listen.
- Smoking – Though this wasn’t an objective, there was a slight undertone on the importance of not smoking. The protagonist’s friend, Karthik, tries smoking and she’s repulsed by it and snatches the pack away from him. Smoking is not cool.. take one look at the images of its aftereffects (mom thrust some seriously gory images of lung cancer at me and pretty sensible statistics) and you’ll be scarred for life. Why would you choose to breathe in extra pollution anyway?
I also loved the Cover art, all fragile , handle with care symbols, a wheelchair and a stamp declaring UNBROKEN. (not sure if the leg symbol with a cross and a temp sign were chosen on purpose..but it is beginning to give me an idea for my door sign!)
So there it is, a book that I loved and a recommended #must-read for teens that go through life sulking, mad at life, complaining and screaming about its unfairness, hurt when often just a change of attitude is all that is required..to start sketching rainbows and unicorns again. (ok ..that was a bit too much :))