It took me awhile to warm up to this book. I felt there were too many adjectives. Too much wordiness. It took too long to let me know what was going on...but maybe I was in a bad mood the day I started it because before too long I was emotionally enthralled. I was completely in the world spun oh-so-cleverly by a gifted author.
This is a powerful story about overcoming the crippling and often generational effects of abuse. Specifically child abuse. Shelby and Trey- survivors, drawing life from each other, siblings that overcame. I can't say how much I adored the relationship these two characters have. All of the characters are amazing, the writing is witty and the story heart wrenching and then heart warming. Completely believable.
Reading the portions that were set in Shelby and Trey's childhood was often hard. Abuse is brutal and the author did a genuinely vivid job of portraying it, as well as the damage left in the wake of it. I suppose because she knows firsthand, having experienced it firsthand and calling herself a survivor. I love that God took something horrible in her life and brought something beautiful in the healing of it. Woven into the story is a life-strengthening message of hope. That Suffering doesn't kill us. Not at all. We get to choose what we do with what's done to us. We do, too.
I'd say this book was astonishingly beautiful once I got into it. If you want to be touched, healed a little...helped a bit, then this book is for you. I recommend it.
*This book was given to me by Tyndale House Publishers in exchange for a non-biased review.
In Broken Places follows a young women, Shelby, as memories and fear of her troubled childhood come back to trouble her present. Shelby has to decide whether "ashes" can be made beautiful in her own life, or whether to flee from all the things that trigger her trauma. In a moment of courage, Shelby decides to move across the world with her new four year-old daughter in order to start life afresh. She takes a teaching position at a missionary school, Black Forest Academy, in the southern Black Forest of Germany. Here she comes face to face with the ways her past can strengthen her_ or forever maim her from enjoying everything good in her life.
This is a story of overcoming deep and painful struggle.
The weighty plot elements are driven by loveable, relatable characters. A number of the characters brought the faces of people I know to mind_ the everyday people in my life. This made me realize just how "normal" these characters are_ and how their quirks, flaws, strengths_ are all part of our general life stories. Or of those we know.
The style of writing is artistic, with a flow that keeps it "real" but also intelligent. The voices are distinct, each with their own bit of humor, which helps to lighten a difficult topic. I love Shelby's brother, Trey. I've always wanted a Trey in my life. Always. Trey is a sidelines hero and, though MichÃ¨le didn't originally plan him as part of the story, he convinced her of his place, and rightly so.
The energy that keeps the book moving forward is simply that of a wounded, traumatized person trying to understand life. When twists and turns threaten to rock the carefully controlled stability, fear of re-opened wounds, or propagating and repeating history, and of losing control, take front and center stage. Because you love the characters and care about their journey, you keep reading. Isn't that why anyone ever keeps reading? Because you care? Well, when you read In Broken Places, you will care a lot about Shelby, Shayla, Trey, Scott, and a handful of others.
Even if you have no connections to Kandern, Germany, or even teaching-as-a-missionary life_ this is a great book. If you are someone who has fears, obstacles, a past you don't want to repeat_ this book is for you. You'll relate deeply with Shelby's process. You'll cheer for her_ and as I found, in essence, your cheers will be as much for your own journey as hers.
In Broken Places by Michele Phoenix captures the heart of anyone who comes from or is dealing with an abusive family situation. Shelby's father created an environment of hate, distrust, misgivings, and ugliness which has prevented Shelby from feeling worthy of anyone's love. However, her heart is captured by a little curly blonde four year old girl of whom she is suddenly the sole guardian. Shayla is Shelby's half-sister, and a little bundle of joy she knew nothing about until a few weeks ago. However, a new addition to Shelby's life isn't the only change on the horizon. Shelby accepts a teaching position at a missionary school in Germany, a country whose language she doesn't know. As Shelby and Shayla transition to life in another culture, love blossoms between Shelby and the physical education teacher at the school, Scott.
In Broken Places by Michele Phoenix is one of the most memorable novels I have ever read. Michele weaves the emotion of heartbreaking drama with laugh-out-loud dialogue and tender romance in a novel that never fails to inspire. With beautiful prose, idyllic setting, and humor never far from the surface, this story of a family's suffering and triumph will entertain every reader.
Shelby's life isn't glamorous, but it is predictableâ€”and that's the way she likes it. A survivor of her father's violence, she has spent a lifetime creating a safe existence devoid of dependence. But her carefully managed world begins to break when, under staggering circumstances, she becomes a single mother to four-year-old Shayla. In a drastic attempt to escape her childhood's influence, Shelby moves to Germany, but she quickly discovers how intimately linked memory and healing areâ€”and how honestly she must scrutinize her past in order to aspire to a richer future. As she juggles a new job, a new culture, a new daughter, and the attention of an enterprising man, Shelby's fresh start becomes a quest for the courage to be not only a survivor, but someone who prevails.
In Broken Places is a book that succeeds on all levels and its characters will stay with me for a long time.
Having been privileged to visit close family living in Germany, it was the book's setting that first caught my attention. The southwestern German town of Kandern is the home of Black Forest Academy, a boarding school for children of missionaries from around the world, and it is in relocating there to teach that Shelby begins her new life. Michele beautifully brings out the cultural rituals - such as morning trips to the bakery and recycling ("Every Sunday around 7:00 p.m., identical shiny black garbage cans appeared on the curbs, their contents devoid of plastic, glass, and paper"), as well as the fact that loud talking is frowned upon. Visits to the Christmas market in Gengenbach, castle ruins at Sausenburg, and a toy museum in Riedlingen also add local color and richness.
The characters are drawn with great depth and complexity, and I quickly came to care about each of them. Scarred from years of abuse and living with the fear that they might have inherited their father's "bad" genes, Shelby and Trey develop a close relationship and protectiveness for each other. Shelby reflects that Trey was "my anchor, my defender, my friend. He was the eight-year-old boy who patted my back and dried my tears, the twelve-year-old rescuer who convinced me we'd be fine, the sixteen-year-old knight who promised to make it better, and the thirty-six-year-old champion who persuaded me that this latest assault would not shatter me either."
As someone who liked to be in control, never wanted children, and was a master at erecting walls, Shelby's "safe" world is shattered when sweet Shayla comes into her life, but an unbreakable bond of love is quickly established. One night Shelby picked her up and she "wrapped her legs around my waist and both her arms around my neck and held on tight. And we walked home like that, me embracing her and her embracing me, me rescuing her and her rescuing me. And the sun setting over Kandern seemed just a little redder somehow."
The romance between Shelby and Scott, a coach at the academy, is sweet, tender, and beautifully portrayed. Spiritual themes are also skillfully woven into the narrative. Shelby's spiritual journey is reflected in these words: "Though the consequences of my father's depravity were still mine to bear, I know that God had been faithful. And it was because he'd been there that the horror had been survivable."
Another integral storyline is the academy's play, Shadowlands, which depicts the love between C. S. Lewis and a dying Joy Gresham. Seth, cast in the role of C. S. Lewis, delivers this monologue at the end: "God loves us, so he makes us the gift of suffering. Through suffering, we release our hold on the toys of this world, and know our true good lies in another world. . . . The suffering in the world is not the failure of God's love for us; it is that love in action. For believe me, this world that seems to us so substantial is no more than the shadowlands. Real life has not begun yet."
Michele Phoenix writes this note at the end:
My sincerest prayer is that the pages of this book will shed a compassionate light on the ravages of child abuse, its soul-crippling tyranny and deep-rooted legacy. Pain need not win. There is life beyond bleeding. There is love beyond fearing. There is hope beyond despairing. I should know . . .
I am a survivor.
A review can hardly do justice to this beautiful, unforgettable story; it must simply be experienced. I highly recommend In Broken Places to all readers.
To learn more, visit Michele's website at michelephoenix.com.
This book was provided by Tyndale House in exchange for my honest review.