Review by Ilia U.
The Science of Breakable Things
By Tae Keller
304 pp. Random House Books for Young Readers.
Like writers, readers can also hit road blocks—when reading begins to feel like a chore, instead of the joy that it can be. Whenever this happens, I find that diving into a middle-grade book like The Science of Breakable Things can jumpstart my love for words and stories. Middle-grade books, especially those written in the first person point-of-view, can transport you back to a time when you experienced life through a child’s mind: when the world was new, raw, and bare-faced.
The narrative of Tae Keller’s debut novel is deceptively straightforward but filled with vulnerability and nuance: Natalie Napoli, in a quest to pull her botanist mother back from the depths of depression, enters an egg-drop competition with her friends, Dari and Twig. She hopes that the prize money would allow her to go to Mexico and acquire a rare Cobalt Blue Orchid, a miraculous plant that bloomed in the bleakest of conditions. Natalie is sure that this will return to her the mother she is slowly losing.
Written in a scientific method structure, The Science of Breakable Things allows readers access to Natalie’s unfiltered thoughts and emotions as she comes to terms with her mother’s depression—how it affects her and her father. Always showing and never telling, the book organically explores Natalie’s emotional journey from confusion to denial to hope to anger, and finally, acceptance.
“Because science is asking questions. And living is not being afraid of the answer.”
But even as the narrative probes the serious issues of mental health, it never forgets to be grounded in the realities of 11-year old Natalie’s world—allowing us to remember how precarious childhood friendships are, how school can vacillate between tedium and delight, and how talking to adults (especially therapists!) can be both freeing and terrifying. Keller even finds time to touch on Natalie’s multi-racial heritage (she’s ¼ Korean) and shows us how much the character grows when she learns more about who her family is.
That our parents are also breakable and vulnerable is a truth every person eventually stumbles upon. With The Science of Breakable Things, Tae Keller shows us that it’s possible to embrace this with grace and courage.
Read an excerpt of The Science of Breakable Things here, and get your copy at Fully Booked stores and Fully Booked Online.
Ilia gave up instant coffee three years ago and never looked back. Words are her first love but she also works with numbers now.
[Thoughts and views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Fully Booked. Then again, we love our authors anyway.]