Critically injured in a motorbike accident, Zara Wilson lies in a coma. She is caught between many worlds: the world of her hospital room and anxious family, and that of her memories and a dream-like fantasy where she searches for her brother Jem. Jem proves elusive but Zara s adventures in her subconscious unlock dark secrets of a troubled childhood. Zara must face up to her past in order to accept her future.
Recently I touched on this book in our Book List Friday segment (Coma List) and the tropes associated with the internal journey.
Broken could have easily turned into this year’s If I Stay; car/motorbike accident, dead family member(s), recollections of childhood memories, back dropped against protagonist’s struggle with the decision to live. The coma tropes. I expected the comic novel elements to provide it some distance from the general coma plot, but I didn’t foresee how distinguished Broken would make itself.
The comic world Zara enters to save her brother, Jem, is critical to Broken’s uniqueness. It wasn’t a gimmick. The comic world was essential to the emotional journey Zara was required to undertake before she could awaken. Even in this trope (the emotional climax coinciding with the physical awakening), Pulford is able to make her own. Searching for Jem in the comic world leads the reader to initially believe that her emotional journey will be the discovery of Jem’s death and her ultimate acceptance of this. This is not the case; as we are moved through the comic world we are constantly pulled out to relive Zara’s childhood memories. What we discover is a horrific episode from her past that she has kept secret from all except Jem. She entrusted all her trauma and shame to Jem, never acknowledging it again. Yes it is a journey of acceptance, but one of acknowledging damage of a past event, not a question of death.
To my eye, language and writing style is essential when you’re dealing with character driven novels. You can get away with average writing in high adventure, plot driven books as the constant activity doesn’t ask the reader to dwell. Novels, such as Broken, hinge on the character’s accessibility and the reader’s ability to connect and empathise. It takes a strong writer to keep the reader engaged with a single character.
I liked the bridging of two genres; graphic novel and traditional story telling. Admittedly it still fared better as a traditional story (it isn’t a fifty-fifty split) then a graphic novel, but beggars and all that. It is a unique concept, which worked well with the underlying plot, with fleshed out characters and a strong writing style. It’s a strong book dealing with the effects of kidnapping and molestation, without being explicit in detail.