I volunteer as an advocate for survivors of domestic violence. Our agency’s new initiative this year was to raise awareness on teen dating violence, so I am well versed in the dynamics of these kind of relationships. Jennifer Shaw Wolf has done a fantastic job portraying an abusive teen relationship in a very realistic manner in Breaking Beautiful.
Allie lost everything the night her boyfriend, Trip, died in a horrible car accident—including her memory of the event. As their small town mourns his death, Allie is afraid to remember because doing so means delving into what she’s kept hidden for so long: the horrible reality of their abusive relationship.
When the police reopen the investigation, it casts suspicion on Allie and her best friend, Blake, especially as their budding romance raises eyebrows around town. Allie knows she must tell the truth. Can she reach deep enough to remember that night so she can finally break free? Debut writer Jennifer Shaw Wolf takes readers on an emotional ride through the murky waters of love, shame, and, ultimately, forgiveness.
Trip is the boy who could do no wrong. Handsome, athletic, popular, and his parents are the powerful players in their small seaside town. When Allie movies permanently to the town her mother grew up in and that where she spent summers with her grandmother, she’s flattered to be his boyfriend.
But as the story unfolds, we realize that they are not the perfect couple, and now that Trip has died in a car accident that Allie can’t remember, she can’t tell anyone about the abuse she experienced. The town, and particularly Trip’s father, begin to suspect Allie of foul play.
Not only is this story an accurate portrayal of an abusive relationship, it’s a well-plotted (if not exactly surprising, in the end) mystery.
Trip slowly isolates Allie away from her friends and family and seeks to gain control over her. He hits her, but not where people can see and always apologizes afterward, showering her with cards and gifts. He doesn’t see his treatment as wrong because he has a sense of masculine entitlement. Classic abuse.
Not only has Wolf done a great job at portraying abuse, I’m also happy to see a character who has a challenging disability but is still well-rounded and not a caricature. Allie’s twin brother Andrew has cerebral palsy. He’s an integral part of the story and not relegated to the sidelines.
It’s hard to be in the head of an abuse victim, but I thought Wolf captures Allie perfectly and though it’s rough for a while, we see her grow and change. I sympathized with her very much. It’s easy to wonder about abuse victims “why do they stay?” but Allie’s internal thoughts give us a glimpse into the mind of someone who has been continually knocked down by an abusive partner.
While I’m sure this happens all the time, I was particularly saddened by how distant Allie was from her parents and how blind they were to her obvious symptoms of emotional and physical abuse. Parents (and others who have a lot of interaction with young adults), pay attention to what they aren’t saying, not just what they reveal!
Though in the end, I had the plot lined figured out half way through and wasn’t that surprised by the ending, it was still an enjoyable and emotional read. We are all beautifully broken, and despite the trauma that Allie has endured, in the end, I feel hopeful for her. I recommend this book to fans of contemporary young adult literature with a hint of mystery and romance and to anyone wanting to gain insight into survivors of teen dating violence (and particularly those who work with teens).