Split by Swati Avasthi

Confession: I’ve been pretty disappointed in a lot of the highly-hyped young adult novels that have been published so far in 2010. I did fall in love with Some Girls Are, but other “heavy hitters” like Before I Fall just flopped for me.

Fortunately, Swati Avasthi’s Split delivered.

Split is an issue novel, and it delves into family violence and abuse. Jace is a high school student who lives under a very abusive father, who happens to be a big named judge in Chicago. Jace’s mother and he struggle with living with his father, but neither feels they can quite escape from the situation. That was the case until Jace’s mother let slip the address of his long-since-gone brother Christian. Christian left the family years ago to escape the violence, unafraid of what the consequences might be.

Jace decides he has to get away, too. But it’s not quite what you think: Jace’s reason for needing to get away in that moment isn’t necessarily the abuse his father doles out. Instead, it is something much deeper and something that will ultimately change the course of his newly emerging relationship with brother Christian and Christian’s girlfriend Mirriam.

This book worked because the issues were dealt with in a manner that was quite realistic. I think that the voice worked for the older teenage boy very well, and I think there was just enough fantasy in his actions — fantasy in the means of solving issues or letting them solve themselves — was spot on.

Moreover, the issue of abuse is tackled tactfully and without making it either overwrought or light hearted. The issue is two-pronged, as well, and I think that Avasthi does a great job of getting to the deeper psychological issues of abuse. Let me step back for a second and say that this book shouldn’t be considered simply an issue book; it’s incredibly well-written that moves fluidly and smoothly in the way that Laurie Halse Anderson’s does in Wintergirls. I would not, however, compare this book to LHA’s, as it is not as unflinching and quite rightfully handles the abuse issue on a different level. That is, there is an entirely different story line here, though the audience for both may be quite similar.

What didn’t work for me in Switched were some of the subplots. I thought that introduction of running as a theme didn’t quite work as smoothly as it could have. It’s introduced a little too late into the book to make it effective. Again, let me go back to LHA and say it didn’t do quite what running did in Catalyst.

I found the last quarter of the book a little hard to follow. There was a lot going on, and I thought some of it was unnecessary or a bit under developed. Avasthi keeps her book to about 250 pages, but I think in the interest of furthering some of the relationships and events that happen in the last quarter of the book — including Christian and Jace’s reconciliation, their relationship with their mother, and Jace’s confessions to the new girl in his life — would have allowed easily for 50-75 more pages. I wish this were stronger, as this was the most critical part of the book but felt like a bit of a let down.

If you like strong writing and an interesting premise that unravels page after page, Switched is one you want to pick up. Avasthi is a fresh voice in young adult writing, and I am excited to see what she does next. She writes believable characters and has developed character relationships that aren’t flat or uninteresting (and in fact, they’re often a bit surprising how they do come to solidify and change). This was easily one of the best books published for this audience so far in 2010, and it is one I daresay should get some attention come awards season. A refreshing one to read after quite a few less-than-exciting reads.

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