Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Review: Split by Swati Avasthi

Two novels titled Split came out this March. Originally I intended to review them together in a Double Review, but these two are soooooooooooo different, it would have been the most disjointed post ever. So instead the reviews are being posted back-to-back; look for my review of Stefan Petrucha's Split tomorrow.

16 year old Jace has grown up with an abusive father - but it wasn't until his older brother Christian moved out that Jace was actually a direct victim. He grew up watching his mother and older brother be beaten viciously - and when he finally stepped in to stop an attack on his mother, he was kicked out. With nowhere else to go, Jace turns to Christian, who has moved out to New Mexico and essentially cut all ties with his family - even changing his name to escape his father.

Christian isn't prepared to be Jace's guardian, but agrees to give it a try, despite living only in a crappy one bedroom apartment and working long hours as a doctoral intern. They're both supported by Christian's girlfriend and next door neighbor, Mirriam. In fits and starts, with plenty of wrong moves by both of them, the brothers re-establish a relationship and try to move forward, even as the violence of their past continues to haunt them and re-emerges in unexpected ways.

This is a totally different look at domestic violence and physical abuse than I've seen in YA novels before. Jace and Christian's father is a total bastard - and yet is a judge and seen as a pillar of the Chicago community outside of the family home. Avasthi doesn't pull any punches, describing the manipulative depths this man goes to, even before he raises a fist. Absolutely chilling.

I also loved that Jace is a complex character. He's not a saint. On the same night that he's kicked out of his house, he smacked around his girlfriend, and even after he's in New Mexico his first reaction in many situations is violence of some kind. It's terrifying to see someone who is in otherways a good kid be so influenced (unwillingly) by a negative force like his dad. Christian also has some great nuances, and it's interesting to see how two kids who grew up in the same household could turn out so differently - and yet also have some very basic similarities.

If I'm being vague, it's only because getting to the hearts of these characters is the real draw of this novel. While both Christian and Jace have girlfriends (or potential girlfriends), the story is about the two of them, and while their relationships with women clearly play a part in defining them, this is about the story of two brothers, and if I explained too much about what makes them tick it would take away from the reading experience!
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