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Broken Soup - Jenny Valentine Summary: Rowan's life has been hell since her brother Jack drowned two years ago. On top of missing him like crazy, she has to take care of her six-year-old sister all on her own. Her mother is deeply depressed, and her father is only a distant presence since her parents split following the accident. But a ray of hope enters her life when she meets new friends: Bee, a girl with a secret about Rowan's family, and Harper, a boy who mysteriously hands her a photo negative of her brother and claims she dropped it.

Writing: I have one word, and that word is clumsy. The author's attempts at sounding quaint or poetic fall flat. At worst, they are contrived. The novel takes its title from a scene in which the little sister drops a tray of food and calls it "broken soup," just one of her many too-cute-for-reality moments.

Characters: Like the negative that launches the storyline, the characters are undeveloped. Rowan's sole characteristic is that she is a martyr who insists on doing everything herself. She refuses to tell her father that her mother is practically catatonic, which makes no sense in this story. It isn't as though her father is a heartless deadbeat; telling him would be the most sensible course of action. Instead she plods on, heroically taking care of her mother and sister both without ever considering her other options. On the other hand, taking care of them doesn't seem to take much effort. Sure, she has to cook, clean, and read bedtime stories, but the little sister is a perfect and adorable child of the type that does not exist in real life. The mother is so paralyzed by depression that she has no character at all. The only thing Rowan really tells us about what her mother was like before Jack's death is that she used to scold Jack for peeing in the potted plants and doted heavily on the little sister to the exclusion of the other two children. Likewise, Bee (the friend) and Harper (the boyfriend) are completely bland. We are told that they are amazing souls and that Rowan's connection to them is incredible and healing, but it's never shown. This story should have ridden on the relationships between characters, but instead there's just a lot of talk and not much heart.

Pacing: The book is mercifully short and fluffy, so it reads quickly, at least.

Plot: There's nothing new here and no attempt to make it feel new, either. This book could have had charm from serendipity, but all serendipity is explained away when Rowan finds out Bee's secret, that she knew Jack and just didn't know how to tell Rowan. Uh, how about, "Hi, I knew your brother"? I think that's a bit less creepy than "Oops, you accidentally found out I knew your brother and have been your friend for ages without telling you, even though you miss him like crazy and it's a creepy secret to keep." When she finds out, Rowan doesn't even get upset! She just accepts Bee's reasoning and gives her space. Because Ms. Creepy Stalker Bee is the one who needs the space... Once again, Rowan and all the other characters are just too GOOD to be believed.

Ending: The plot twist at the end can be seen from the International Space Station, and it all wraps up too happily to be believed.

Cosmetic: What is up with this cover? This does not say "I lost my brother and am having to raise my sister because my mom is suicidal, and my best friend is hiding all kinds of stuff from me." It says, "Oh my GOD, how pretty is this sweater? It is, like, SO pretty!" Why even have an image if it's going to be so nondescript? Are there that many readers who are going to pick this up and think, "Hey, this is about a girl in a sweater! That's my favorite kind of book!"?

What more did I want?: I don't mind dessert, but I want substance. Reading this is like eating Splenda. Sure, it's sweet, but in the long run, it's going to leave you desperate for something heavier.