I freely admit that this is a biased review. I have been friends with Tawni Waters
since we were both in our first semester of an MFA program, and I knew from the moment I read one of her pieces in class that she had been kissed by a literary muse. I am thrilled that she has published her first novel, Beauty of the Broken
, and I know that this is the first of many books the world will see from Tawni.
Beauty of the Broken
tells the story of fifteen-year-old Mara who lives in a small town with her abusive father, alcoholic mother, and brain-damaged brother. Mara has grown up listening to the conservative sermons of Reverend Winchell and the rantings of her closed-minded father, but when she befriends Xylia, the free-spirited new girl from San Francisco, Mara begins to question all that she’s been taught. Despite her conservative community and her father’s violent threats, Mara realizes that she’s in love with Xylia… and Xylia might be in love with her, too! But just when the girls start to feel safe with these new feelings, their secret is discovered, and Mara’s world is thrown into chaos.
Reading Beauty of the Broken is like entering a different world. “This whole town is retro,” Xylia tells Mara. “It’s like I stepped into a time warp or something.”
She’s right. Mara’s town is definitely behind the times, and Mara lives a low-tech life that most teens can only imagine. Her farmer father won’t let Mara have a cell phone or use a computer. Mara and her brother, Iggy, spend their days fishing and tending to the chickens instead of surfing the Internet. And Mara’s “Momma,” a fading beauty queen with a penchant for Ethel Merman, is trying to marry her daughter off to the preacher’s son like it’s still 1952. But in a way, the the old-fashioned vibe and archetypal characters make the story feel both timeless and magical.
In fact, Beauty of the Broken seems less like a contemporary YA novel and more like a heart-breaking fable. Always realistic? No. Does it matter? No. Because this lyrical novel is less about the way things are and more about the way things feel to a fifteen-year-old girl who is trying her best to understand life and love in a world full of fear and hatred. It’s the emotion that makes Mara’s story so engaging and unforgettable.
Mara’s observations of the world are in turn beautiful, naïve, funny, and wise. Like most teens she can be overly-dramatic, but she is so full of love and longing that my heart couldn’t help but go out to her. Though her story is gut-wrenching, it is sprinkled with tiny miracles. And like the wooden figures she whittles, by the end of the novel Mara has carved out her own beliefs about God and what it means to love.
Mara says, “This is a chapter in my love story with Xylia. I don’t know how it ends, and I can’t even begin to imagine it, because nobody writes love stories about people like me.”
But Tawni Waters has written the story (with a little help from her literary muse), and she has created a timeless fable for today’s world.