Thursday, January 14, 2016

Review: Breakaway by Kat Spears

Title: Breakaway
Author: Kat Spears
Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin
Release date: September 15th 2015
Pages: 290
Genre: Young Adult contemporary
Source: I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Thanks!
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When Jason Marshall’s younger sister passes away, he knows he can count on his three best friends and soccer teammates—Mario, Jordie, and Chick—to be there for him. With a grief-crippled mother and a father who’s not in the picture, he needs them more than ever. But when Mario starts hanging out with a rough group of friends and Jordie finally lands the girl of his dreams, Jason is left to fend for himself while maintaining a strained relationship with troubled and quiet Chick.

Then Jason meets Raine, a girl he thinks is out of his league but who sees him for everything he wants to be, and he finds himself pulled between building a healthy and stable relationship with a girl he might be falling in love with, grieving for his sister, and trying to hold on to the friendships he has always relied on.
My rating: 5 out of 5 stars

I didn't have my expectations set to high for this book: it sounded like a pretty generic contemporary YA story, and I hadn't heard much about it. But Breakaway took me by surprise and completely blew me away. I read the first 200 pages in one sitting, and didn't pause to realize how much I was loving the book until after I had devoured all of it. Kat Spears's writing is so immersing, honest and poignant; I loved everything about this book.

I loved Jaz as our main character. I don't even think I would like him all that much if I met him in real life, but I absolutely loved being inside his head. His voice is honest and authentic, equal parts entertaining and and poignant. Jaz is impulsive and has a bit of an anger problem; he tends to make really terrible decisions. But he's a good guy deep down, and I grew to really love him and feel for him over the course of the novel. 

It's hard to pinpoint what exactly this book is about, and don't even want to talk about any of the storylines in too much depth: what I loved most about Breakaway isn't any one storyline, it's just how it tells such a real story in such an honest, engaging way. I loved reading about Jaz's friendship with Mario, Jordie, and Chick, even as it's disintegrating; each of them has their own fascinating story, and I loved the changing dynamics between the four. Although at times I felt like the grief element of the novel was underdeveloped, I loved reading about Jaz's family, too. I could see how some readers might think that all the storylines are underdeveloped because what happens or how Jaz feels about it is never spelled out for us, but I think that's just the subtleties of Kat Spears's writing: rather than telling us anything straight up, she shows us what's going on through Jaz's actions and his refusal to think about or feel things. This is a very honest, maybe even bleak, way to tell the story, but I really loved it.

Even though I appreciated that it wasn't the main focus of the novel, I really enjoyed the romance. I loved Raine - I was scared she would be the cliched popular girl who turns out to be troubled and different, but there's a lot more to her than that. She's spunky and fun to read about, and I loved the influence she had on Jaz. Kat Spears really knows how to work the slow burn; the two of them take forever to finally get together, and it made the chemistry between them all the better. Their relationship is honest and realistic, and I loved it.

Despite Kat Spears's subtleties, she manages to address a variety of issues in her novel. I really appreciated the honest portrayal of class relations and racial identity, and how that plays into the boys' friendship as well as their feeling of belonging with certain sets of people. Depression, mental illness, and suicide are big themes in the book as well, novel also briefly mentions learning disabilities. Drug use is explored, too, although I found the portrayal of Mario's drug use as bad and Jaz's own drinking as unproblematic to be a little too simplistic. But other than that, Spears weaves these issues into Jaz's story in honest and thoughtful ways.

I can see how a lot of readers will take issue with the book's ending. The novel ends very abruptly; it just kind of... stops, and it's about as far away from a happy ending as you can get. At first, I was a little disappointed by the abrupt ending: I wanted to know what really happened to Jaz's sister, and I wanted to know what would happen after. But, the more I think about, the more I understand that this ending works better than anything else; a happy, sugar-coat-y ending that gives us all the answers wouldn't have fit the rest of the book at all. I wished the book would go on because I wasn't ready to leave these characters behind but, artistically, I think this ending makes the most sense and works well with the story.

If you're expecting resolutions and happy endings, this book probably isn't for you, but I really appreciated the almost painful rawness and honesty of Breakaway. Kat Spears's writing style and Jaz's voice are engaging and immersive, the type of writing you can read forever without noticing the time passing. I've read some other reviews complaining that the book is too sad, but I didn't find it sad in an intentional tearjerker-y way; it's just a very honest story with a somewhat bleak outlook on life. With immersive writing, lovable and complex characters, and an authentic story that will make you think, Breakaway is a story that will stay with me for a while. While it's not for everyone, I really loved the authenticity and harshness of the novel. I can't wait to get my hands on Kat Spears's debut novel, Sway, and see what she comes up with next!


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