I sat down to write the review for Break Her by B. G. Harlen, and I first thought, oh, I could write for *days* on how I feel about this book. It would be an endless stream-of-consciousness review, disjointed thought following disjointed thought. But then, I immediately followed that with, no, there is *nothing* I can say about this book. How do I put words to an experience that cratered my mind?? How do I reconcile the enormity of the hold this story has had (and, still has) on me with the near-constant cringing of my moral compass?!
My need to purge some of the feelings this book engendered won out.
The story itself is graphically and excruciatingly painful. This review is the only warning you'll get from me. Consider very carefully what your limits are and any triggers you may have before deciding to read this. Break Her is about the torture of sustained rape and the ultimate, intense psychological battle of wills between perpetrator and victim. Two characters in all, strangers to each other, neither named by the author (though, name or not, the female lead became more real to me than I can express). A time period of a day and a half. Oh, what can happen in a day and a half.
So, what did I experience while reading? Here are some thoughts, disjointed or otherwise.
This was a difficult, distressing read. I read in bits and pieces over several days, taking many breaks. So many times I wondered, why do I keep going back?! Why don't I just stop? You will want to stop, and, at the same time, you won't. Unquestionably, there is genius storytelling at work here.
I have never, not ever, read anything quite like this. Very early on, I felt sure that I knew exactly what it was I needed to take away from this heinous and remarkable combination of words. I thought, ah, I know what the author is trying to convey. This here? This is exactly the larger message. Mmmm, right. Until it wasn't. I went round and round and back and forth with myself so many times, I was dizzy. At multiple points in this story, I found myself questioning not only myself, but both characters, the author, the world at large. Granted, we all read through life filters of our own making. And, mine tend to be serious and somewhat intense on an ordinary day. Reading this was no ordinary day, not for me. Far from it, in fact. So, there is no doubt that what I took from Break Her, what I've kept with me, is strongly impacted by my life experiences and beliefs.
Toward the end, as the relentless attack reached a new low point, I would swear that I could *actually* feel some of what the victim was experiencing. I can't begin to tell you how that feeling has stayed with me. Part of me thinks I would do anything to get rid of it, to forget it. But, I have to say, I also believe that this is what makes Break Her a must-read for those who can handle it. Because, that feeling, the fact that I can't forget it? It makes rape REAL. It gives me a graphic but essential look inside the harsh reality of the crime. And, for me? For me, that is a lifetime guarantee that I will NEVER take the act of rape lightly, agree with those who seek to 'redefine' it, nor will I ever believe I have the right to judge *any* victim/survivor of this loathsome crime or try to legislate the decisions to be made arising from possible consequences. That alone makes this well worth reading, in my opinion. This is a horrible, terrible, gripping reading experience that, ultimately, is a story of the fierce desire and will to survive. The almost unnatural but awe-inspiring strength of this woman is the real triumph in this story. There are other points made and questions posed in the telling of Break Her, and legitimately so. For me, though, what I've laid out here is what I choose to take away from this experience.
Whatever arguments can and will be made regarding content, I don't believe anyone will be able to deny the amazing talent in this author's writing. This cannot be a debut author. I just don't believe it. Whoever this author may be, I hope there is much more to come. May I put in my request now for some slightly lighter fare with the next book? My emotionally exhausted self would be eternally grateful.
5 Dark & Twisty Stars!!
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