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Nessa's Thoughts

Just a British girl who reads a bit too much.

Currently reading

The Dead Zone
Stephen King
The Diving Bell And The Butterfly
Jean-Dominique Bauby
Clarissa, or, the History of a Young Lady
Samuel Richardson, Angus Ross
Orange Is the New Black: My Year in a Women's Prison
Piper Kerman
The Cuckoo's Calling
Robert Galbraith
Break - Hannah Moskowitz The premise for Break both horrified and fascinated me when I decided to finally check out Hannah Moskowitz's works. (Maybe I could set aside March as Moskowitz Month? Hmm.)I'd heard a lot of good things about Teeth, but I thought I'd plunge into the deep end with Break (any pun about Teeth being unintentional, believe me), and... you know the funny thing?The day after I bought it, I tripped over and broke one of my toes. Then the next day, my dad slipped and rolled down a muddy embankment and badly bruised his ribs. Fate, your sense of irony has been duly noted.So, yes. Going into the story after reading the rather compelling sample chapter, I had a few questions I hoped would be answered over the course of this book.1. Why the hell would you break your bones in order to take your mind off your mental anguish? I understand self harm, but this is a bit of a step too far, don't you think? I actually wondered at first if we'd find out that our main character Jonah (classy name – he's being swallowed by a big ol' whale of depression, of course) had one of those conditions where you couldn't actually feel pain. I read about it in a magazine years ago – a mother had twins with this condition who would experiment in bending their fingers back as far as possible, often to breaking point. They'd hear the break and feel this sort of numb sensation, but never the “OH GOD OH GOD OW” feeling you get when you realise you've broken a bone.2. Since this book is set in America, Jonah's really accomplishing nothing but putting his parents in medical debt by voluntarily breaking his bones like this. Sure, it's a cry for attention, but it's a rather financially draining way of going about it. I've lived in a country with socialised healthcare all my life, and never had to pay a penny for hospital or clinic visits. (Yes, there are taxes and specific prescriptions, but my point is, you don't have to pay for just visiting your doctor or winding up in Accident and Emergency after injuring yourself.) When I broke my collarbone on holiday in Germany, I was absolutely flabbergasted to discover the ambulance ride + the X-ray + the consultation + the sling totted up to £450.00, because I didn't have German health insurance and my EU travel health card thingamajig had run out. Someone's got to foot the bill, you know. I know there's insurance and such, but... surely the family's health insurance company would be coming after them?3. I know it's supposed to be ironic that Jonah believes breaking his bones makes him stronger, when it actually makes everything worse for him. But don't broken bones do that in general? That collarbone fracture I spoke of last paragraph has basically destroyed my ability to lift my left arm up in the air. It just stops if I raise it too high, and if I try to push it further, it really hurts. I've also broken my femur, albeit mildly, after being run over by a car, and I've had a slight limp in my right leg ever since. When it's revealed near the end of the book that Jonah has actually contracted a life-threatening bone infection from constantly fracturing them, I was just like: “Hate to say I told you so!”Normally I don't have these kinds of questions going fresh into a book, but all the same, the premise did baffle me.The story continues to follow the self-destructive main character Jonah as he does all the typical misanthropic YA teenage boy things. He casually insults people, refuses to go the whole hog with his sort-of girlfriend because spending too much time with her is 'too relationship-y', and paints his parents as useless, irresponsible, and treats any other authority like dirt on the end of his shoe. So, you know. Somebody who understands him is a great person, somebody who questions what he's doing is just the Man, man.There's this part where Jonah is in the psychiatrist's office. The night before, he explained his interest in Confucianism (more specifically, how it relates to the family unit) to his friends, who seemed to all agree with him. On the other hand, Jonah's psychiatrist immediately sees the flaw in his thinking, and Jonah's narration reminds us that anyone who doesn't understand this perfect logic is a small-minded Western thinker. Yeah... I don't really like you, Jonah.You know how I said about that condition where you can't feel pain earlier? Well, Jonah has to have the highest pain tolerance I've seen. The mentions of the physical pain are pretty sparse. His broken arm throbs only every once in a while, his broken femurs are just alluded to as a period in his life in which he had to take pain medication and do physiotherapy, and apparently he gets around after breaking eight of his toes by simply walking on the balls and heels of his feet. I know there's supposed to be this whole mental anguish vs. physical pain battle going on, but I just don't particularly understand Jonah's motive. This voluntary bone-breaking is accomplishing nothing. There's no pain release, there's no cathartic sting, there's no sense that Jonah feels better after breaking his bones. There's just this adrenaline rush when he flings himself off a high place or slams his hand in a car door or whatever, then a whole load of pain that cripples him and puts him in the hospital. I just... don't get it. I don't want to sound like some insensitive arse who knows nothing about self-harm, but I can see why people cut themselves. Jonah's constant fracturing of his bones just doesn't make any sense to me.The two girls in this book were kind of weak too. Charlotte represents stability, I guess, and Naomi represents Jonah's more destructive side. Naomi's quite happy to video-tape Jonah breaking his bones, and keeps badgering him to keep up with this lifestyle when he realises later on that breaking all his bones is in fact accomplishing nothing. Charlotte, on the other hand, seems really disposable. He talks about how he makes out with her and really likes her, but he's not ready to commit, and she's hardly in the story once she tells the principal and school counsellor about Jonah's tendencies.I think Break strove to do a lot, but didn't really finish itself up in time. Some of the biggest subplots get resolved with no pomp or circumstance whatsoever. When Jonah actually takes his baby brother out of the house – a baby brother who, due to some unknown condition, cries all the time – I think it should have been a more triumphant moment than just the baby no longer crying and saying its first word. Jonah getting together with Charlotte at the end didn't do anything for me either, and nor did Jesse getting with Naomi.The psychiatric ward bit didn't really do much for me either. I didn't care about the 'friends' Jonah made, and it wasn't really a shocking revelation when Jonah's self-destructive tendencies begin rubbing off on some of these friends. The whole episode just felt like a convenient holding pen for our main character until he needed to be back doing things again. (I'm also having a hard time believing that security at a psychiatric retreat would just be one door with a coded lock. Seriously?)On the plus side, though, Hannah Moskowitz isn't a bad writer. She's really good at capturing high emotion, like the panic that sets in when Jonah accidentally sets off his brother Jesse's terrible allergies, and the maelstrom of emotions that sets in when Jonah leaves the psychiatric retreat and realises the folly of what he's doing and thus has an internal crisis.Jonah's not quite the worst protagonist I've ever read. He's whiny and annoying, sure, but you're still invested in why he's so adamant that he must break his bones in order to escape his hectic family and interpersonal life. Hannah Moskowitz is a talented enough writer to keep the whole premise trucking along, even if there are so many questions left unanswered by the end, as well as subplots that are kind of sloppily tied up. I guess they're all just open to interpretation. 3.5/5.(This review is also available on my blog: http://nessasky.wordpress.com/2013/02/11/book-review-break-by-hannah-moskowitz/)