When I clued into the fact that Broken is a Frankenstein-inspired mashup of resurrection-related romance and teenage angst, I was determined not to like it. I don’t see why we need to revisit Frankenstein but set it in high school. So A.E. Rought was fighting a pitched battle to earn my approval—but she makes a good case.
Broken’s relationship with its source material is similar to how all other vampire stories relate to Dracula. The resurrected boy is named Alex Franks, and Emma attends Shelley High, but these nods and the idea of creating a patchwork quilt of life are the extent to which this book emulates the original. Indeed, Alex is no monster, and his father is not trying to create new life from dead parts stitched together. Rather, Alex is a real person resurrected by a very skilled mad scientist of a father.
None of this is spoiler material, because it is pretty obvious from the beginning. That being said, Rought makes a good attempt at building up to the revelation to Emma that Alex is more than just the new kid on the block. She drops subtle hints—scars along his body, absences when Alex is getting treatment, and of course, the eyes that look so much like Daniel’s…. Unfortunately, Rought milks the dramatic irony of the disparity between the reader’s awareness and Emma’s for far too long. By the time Emma understands the situation, the book is nearly over.
There were a couple of times, when I wasn’t careful, that I almost fell for Broken. I’m blaming Emma and her voice here. She’s a very likable and relatable protagonist, despite being a self-absorbed teenage girl still trying to process the death of her boyfriend. She is introspective enough to provide thoughtful narration and speculate on her own motives. But she is also very flawed, very adolescent in her approach to the world. Rought does a good job depicting such a worldview in Emma’s dialogue, thoughts, and actions.
So there is a core to this book that works very well. Unfortunately, it is surrounded by a plot that drags. Emma takes forever to learn the truth about Alex. There are far too many scenes in which she and Alex exchange angsty looks while having angsty dialogue about how they are both so full of angst because her boyfriend is dead and his father is a mean old bastard. Once in a while, if we are lucky, we get treated to watching Emma order coffee.
Initial prejudice aside, I suspect that I also have a problem with Broken because, deep down, it just doesn’t seem speculative enough. The only science-fictional or fantastic component of the whole book is Alex’s situation, and Rought spends very little time investigating or explaining how his condition works. I was going into this expecting a full-on fantasy or science-fiction story and instead got YA romance with a side of electromagnetic resurrection. This isn’t Broken’s fault, necessarily, though I think it’s another indication of the missed potential.
That’s what it comes down to with this book. Broken is competent and borderline fascinating, but it doesn’t stand out. It doesn’t take risks with its storytelling. Its protagonist has an enjoyable voice, but she lives in a drab world where coming back to life requires very little explanation, save perhaps an ironic eyebrow arch of hipster solidarity. In the end, I’m forced to concede that I had this book all wrong: aside from the most superficial of similarities, this book has nothing to do with Frankenstein—and that is a shame.