Break by Hannah Moskowitz
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
What were you doing during your junior year in high school? Chasing boys? Cheering on the home team? Worrying about the perfect prom dress (or if you were even going to make it to prom)? Fighting with your parents because of their crazy restrictive curfews?
I don’t know what Hannah Moskowitz did to keep it real during eleventh grade. And considering she’s only nineteen, those days were, well, like, yesterday. I know one thing she did do, though. She got herself a little publishing deal with one of the biggest houses in the country. In the world. She wrote a book called Break, and it is easily the most uninhibited, mind-numbing, high-concept YA (young adult) book I’ve ever come across.
From the back cover: Jonah is on a mission to break every bone in his body. Everyone knows that broken bones grow back stronger than they were before. Jonah wants to be stronger—needs to be stronger—because everything around him is falling apart.
YA isn’t just for the under-20 crowd anymore. And even though Break was published by a children’s imprint, it’s anything but juvenile. Moskowitz has infused a maturity into her work that clearly relegates her in the realm of prodigies—human beings that age shouldn’t know the stuff she’s writing. The story sounds simple enough—a kid hell-bent on self-destruction who finds that breaking his bones provides the rush and release other kids get from cutting, huffing, or drinking. But Jonah, and the life he is surrounded with, is complex and entangled. His baby brother never stops crying, for undiscovered medical reasons; his parents are embroiled in a taut, passive-aggressive, not-in-front-of-the-kids marriage; and his not-much-younger brother suffers from deadly allergies to milk, and pretty much everything else on the planet. Moskowitz’s vivid description of the mother’s sloppy lactation habits alone is enough to make the reader scratch her head and say, “How the hell did she know about this?” Moskowitz writes with a level of profundity unseen in most adult writers I read (and I read a lot), infusing deep psychological underpinnings in the latter scenes of the book where Jonah comes unraveled, or quite literally, broken.
The best advice I’ve ever received from a writing instructor was that, as writers, we must inject tension into every single scene. Moskowitz has done this; each page is ripe with tension of varying shades, from the stomach-curdling description of Jonah’s bones as they snap to the sexual tension of a seventeen-year-old boy involved in a relationship with his “non-girlfriend” Charlotte. The interpersonal relationships between Jonah and secondary characters are believable and heartbreaking, another testament to Moskowitz’s skill as a gifted teller of stories.
Moskowitz has a poet’s sensibilities in her tight, terse sentences, choosing every word for its merit rather than the beauty of its sound as it rolls off the tongue. If you have a sensitivity for the “F” bomb (which the writer uses with regularity), Break might turn you off, but understand that her choice to include such language is completely in alignment with Jonah’s character. The dialogue is true to type, and honest in its presentation. More compelling is the fact that Moskowitz wrote Break from an entirely male perspective, while she is female, not a small feat in any literary undertaking.
It is interesting to note that after reading Break, I emailed the writer to ask how many of her own bones she had broken in the process of writing this book. She emailed back within moments: none. Yeah, it’s that good.
Beyond my fascination with Moskowitz’s knack for shock value lies a visceral, educated writer who packs a powerful punch into every single sentence. On her acknowledgments page, she gives a thumb’s up to Chuck Palahniuk, a phenomenal novelist who twists humor and the macabre into a lickable candy stick at every turn. I am a diehard Palahniuk fan, and Moskowitz is the Palahniuk of her generation. If he hasn’t read this book, he should; it’s like listening to Gershwin and hearing the threads of Rachmaninov in the piece. Delicious. He would be so proud of sweet young Hannah.
Moskowitz, whose next book Invincible Summer is due out in 2011, is a cutting-edge up-and-comer to add to your must-watch list. This first example of her talents promises a long career of smart, excoriated fiction that sucks the reader in and holds them by the throat for the duration of the story. Break is a quick read, but one that will leave a lasting impression long after the final page has been turned.
And check out her blog at http://hannahmosk.blogspot.com/.
LOVE LOVE LOVE!
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