Book: Torn Away
Author: Jennifer Brown
Age Range: 12 and up
Torn Away by Jennifer Brown is about a teenage girl living in a small midwestern town who loses everything in a tornado. I hadn't read any of Brown's novels up to this point, though I was vaguely familiar with them (particularly Hate List, about a school shooting). She is known for taking on ripped from the headlines stories and making them stand out. I found Torn Away to be a definite page-turner, with gripping descriptions of the tornado and the devastation that it caused. It is a rather depressing book, but one that wrung a few tears out of me in the end.
Jersey is likable without being perfect (a bit pudgier than she might like, and one who prefers to stay behind the scenes, rather than be in the limelight). Prior to the tornado, she is frequently irritated by her irrepressible five year old half sister, Marin. She eventually comes to regret not being nicer to Marin when she had the chance. I personally found this point to be hammered at a tiny heavily. But it did make me resolve to be more patient with the irrepressible preschooler living in my own house. And I respected the author's decision not to sugar-coat Jersey's relationship with her sister. Teens are not always kind to their much-younger siblings - this is a fact of life. Other characters, even those that don't survive, are allowed not to be perfect, which is a big part of what makes the book work.
Jersey's experience after the tornado, when she is sent to live with her estranged father and his heinous family, is in some ways worse than the tornado itself. Brown's tone is somewhat matter of fact, rather than overly melodramatic, which helps to keep Torn Away from being too sad to bear. Here are a couple of snippets:
"Had I not know I was standing in my living room, I never would have guessed this was my house. The roof was completely missing. The whole thing. No holes or tears--gone. Some of the outside walls were also missing, and the remaining walls were in perilously bad conditions. One was leaning outward, the window blown and the frame hanging by a corner. Farther away, where the living room and the kitchen normally, met, the house just... ended." (Chapter Four, ARC).
"What the news crews couldn't show was the real damage Elizabeth's monster tornado had left behind. How do you record the wreckage left in someone's heart? I pulled out a piece of gum and popped it into my mouth, then smoothed out the foil. I found a pen on the nightstand and drew a picture of a big stick figure holding a little stick figure." (Chapter Eleven, ARC)
When I was a teenager, I would have adored this book. A natural disaster! A compelling plot full of terrible things happening to someone delightfully ordinary. Complex family relationships. Torn Away has a lot going for it. As an adult reader I enjoyed it, despite feeling the tiniest bit emotionally manipulated. My inkling to read Hate List has increased, in any case.
Torn Away is a book that I think will reach teen readers, and give them (at least for a little while) a new appreciation of their families. And perhaps they'll feel a bit more empathy towards the victims of natural disasters seen on the evening news.
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers (@LBKids)
Publication Date: May 6, 2014
Source of Book: Advance review copy from the publisher
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