All the Broken Things is a coming of age story quite unlike any you’ve read before. Before you even read of Bo’s life, you are given one giant eye-opening and powerfully stated “Author’s Note”. It was one that I couldn’t stop reading over, thinking about and sharing. In it tells the wild truths about Canada’s (Ontario) manufacture of Agent Orange, bear wrestling and freak shows.
September, 1983. Fourteen-year-old Bo, a boat person from Vietnam, lives in a small house in the Junction neighbourhood of Toronto with his mother, Thao, and his four-year-old sister, who was born severely disfigured from the effects of Agent Orange. Named Orange, she is the family secret; Thao keeps her hidden away, and when Bo’s not at school or getting into fights on the street, he cares for her.
One day a carnival worker and bear trainer, Gerry, sees Bo in a streetfight, and recruits him for the bear wrestling circuit, eventually giving him his own cub to train. This opens up a new world for Bo–but then Gerry’s boss, Max, begins pursuing Thao with an eye on Orange for his travelling freak show. When Bo wakes up one night to find the house empty, he knows he and his cub, Bear, are truly alone. Together they set off on an extraordinary journey through the streets of Toronto and High Park. Awake at night, boy and bear form a unique and powerful bond. When Bo emerges from the park to search for his sister, he discovers a new way of seeing Orange, himself and the world around them.
All the Broken Things is a spellbinding novel, at once melancholy and hopeful, about the peculiarities that divide us and bring us together, and the human capacity for love and acceptance.
This is a lovely synopsis really, and while it does clearly sum up what happens in the story, it doesn’t really seem to capture enough about it, you know? I’ve been struggling over the past many days in my attempts to write thoughts full of clarity and charm about this story after closing the pages of All the Broken Things. Then I happened across Kerry’s review over at Pickle Me This, and found that here, here is what I think I’ve been trying to say:
I finished reading the book the other day and have not quite discovered what I think of it yet. “I think it’s a novel meant to be deeply considered rather than summed up in a sentence or two,” is what I wrote on Sunday in an email to a friend. The novel is a peculiar shape, not quite what I am used to. I found it to be a page-turner, difficult to put down. It’s a novel that moves through time and space almost as quickly as I moved through its chapters, and I have this theory that its plotted more as an epic tale than a novel.
I’ve been staring at this page for a few days on end now, wondering how best to write an appropriate review for a story that I quite enjoyed, a story that was a fast-moving, very enjoyable tale, but as Kerry says, it’s not something you can really write about in a sentence or two. All the Broken Things is written with spare prose, there are no superfluous or overly descriptive words used throughout, and yet, upon closing, its prose haunts your mind for days on end. A wonderful and delightful tale. I do recommend reading it. You won’t be able to stop thinking about it after finishing though, I’m warning you now.