Avasthi, Swati. Split. New York: Knoft, Division of Random House, 2010. Print.
It was hard enough watching his mother get hit, so Jace learned just how to deflect his father’s blows from her to himself. Until one day when he’d had enough. And in one moment changed everything.
Reading a story about physical abuse could be a real downer, but Swati Avasthi inflects her protagonist, Jace Witherspoon with a such strong YA voice so full of ironic humor and such no-holds-barred honesty we are riveted to the page, rooting for Jace, even when he disappoints us. Even when he disappoints himself.
With certainty, many teens painfully exist under the tyranny of physical abuse at home, and no matter where Swati Avasthi did her research, whether it was from personal experience or a very close friend, her writing bleeds on the page, it was so visceral. If all it did was bleed, that would be a lot to take, but she lifts it up, and takes us on a journey with Jace, both figuratively and literally, as he flees his parents, his life and mostly himself, and tries to make some sense from what has happened to him, what could happen to the mother he left behind unprotected, and whatever did happen to his brother, who split years before.
In one scene, Jace sits alone listening to a fight going on in the apartment next door between his brother and his brother’s girlfriend. As it escalates, Jace tensely waits for the sound of blows and crying, as that has been his only experience with disagreements in his life. When those blows don’t come, but instead the sounds of calm resolution and possibly warm embraces, Jace is stunned, wondering how his brother has broken the cycle of ugliness that has claimed them all so fully. He wants to ask him how, but can’t without admitting he was listening, or revealing the very thing he’s running from.
Jace is such a great character, so multifaceted, flawed, conflicted and confused. His first-person narrative is so honest and reflective it is easy to climb into Jace’s head and identify with him, it’s that immediate. Bonus points for all the other characters being so well-developed the reader feels like a fly on the wall in someone’s true-life hidden nightmare. The setting is littered with many references to fast-food, music and books that claim placement in the here and now - middle-class America. The prose is so good, the dialogue so raw, the theme so gritty, and the pacing so like a suspense-thriller, you will willingly take this quest of self with Jace, a perilous journey that will find him profoundly and forever altered.
When the dust settles, life can rebuild.
Genre: Realist/Edgy/Problem Novel, Coming of Age, Sports, Romance