Book: The Way Back from Broken
Author: Amber J. Keyser
Age Range: 13 and up
The Way Back from Broken by Amber J. Keyser is a young adult novel about recovering from grief, with generous helpings of interpersonal relationships, diversity, and outdoor adventure. 15-year-old Rakmen, a city kid from North Portland (OR) is struggling 10 months after the death of his baby sister. He's not doing well in school, doesn't care about playing basketball with his friends anymore, and fears that his parents' marriage is breaking up. As things deteriorate further, Rakmen's parents end up sending him to the Canadian wilderness for the summer with Leah, who has recently lost a baby, and her 9-year-old daughter Jacey. There, the three mis-matched lost souls have an adventure, and also start to form a new sort of family.
The Way Back from Broken is most suitable to young adults (and adults), with a bit of language and references to suicide. The grief of the characters is often searing, and I think it would be a bit much for younger kids. At the start of the book I wondered "why would I put myself through reading this?". But Rakmen's voice (limited third person perspective) pulled me in. And I'm glad that it did. The Way Back from Broken is powerful and unflinching but ultimately hopeful.
Keyser does a nice job of incorporating diversity organically in The Way Back from Broken. Rakmen's dad is (apparently) black, his mother is Mexican. The grief counseling center that Rakmen and his mom visit groups them together with black and white families from a range of socioeconomic backgrounds, their shared grief building bridges that would otherwise be unlikely. The tentatively developing friendship between Rakmen and a white girl named Molly is handled in a way that felt realistic to me. There's awkwardness when Rakmen's friend teases him about Molly, and even more awkwardness when she and her parents attend a cookout at Rakmen's home. None of this diversity is what the book is about - but it renders the interpersonal relationships more layered and interesting.
Keyser's prose is descriptive, using all of the senses, yet without slowing the pace of the book. Here are a couple of the passages that I flagged:
"Rakmen breathed in the summer evening--the bite of diesel in the air, garden dirt, and burgers cooking next door. This was what he knew, but it no longer felt like home. He was a runaway truck with burned out brakes. The ache that filled Rakmen pulsed in his bones, white-cold and penetratingly deep. With leaden arms, he hoisted his duffel into the trunk." (Page 60)
"As he picked up the paddle and thrust the canoe into deeper water, his open blister burned against the wooden shaft, and every muscle in his arms and torso screamed in protest. Au large was the perfect torture, he though. When you can't walk anymore, you paddle. When your hands are about to fall off, you hike. And every single part of your body ends up hurting." (Page 123)
The later part of the book is suspenseful. I read The Way Back from Broken in just about one sitting, engaged because of the action that takes place, but also because I cared about the characters. The relationship between Rakmen and Jacey is particularly well-done, built slowly and steadily over the course of the book. The Way Back from Broken is a book that will stay with me. Highly recommended for teen and adult readers.
Publisher: Carolrhoda Lab
Publication Date: October 1, 2015
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher
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