A near miss, Hannah Marshall
Helen Vivienne Fletcher
Helen Vivienne Fletcher’s self-published thriller Broken Silence is bursting with promise – unfortunately, it fails to hit the spot.
Set in present-day Wellington, Broken Silence introduces us into the world of 17-year-old Kelsey, a protagonist with a heavy weight on her shoulders. Trying to deal with a terminally ill mother, an absent father, and her abusive boyfriend Mike, Kelsey’s chaotic life conveys what it feels like to be a lost and confused teenager. The mayhem escalates when a mysterious caller gives Kelsey a hand out of her violent situation with Mike – by putting him into a coma. Soon, Kelsey and the people she loves are thrown into danger, as the caller threatens those she cares for most. With Kelsey being the only one who can discover the identity of the caller, the tension rises as she tries to solve the mystery before it is too late.
Fletcher deserves applause for her handling of abuse, such a heavy topic to portray in a YA novel. Abuse is a tragically relevant, yet overlooked, issue in New Zealand society, and it’s refreshing to see an author tackling such a tough topic. I have never read a novel in which any character, let alone the protagonist, is a victim of domestic violence, making this book a stand-out in its bravery.
Editor's note: With Mike’s behaviour constantly rotating from abusive to apologetic, Kelsey is conflicted with mixed feelings – “I feel like I’m spending all my time waiting for him to stop being such a dick, and start acting like himself again”. Her feelings portray a brutal reality of abusive relationships, and present bold ideas of love and its limits.
However, Kelsey is a half-baked character. She is one of the most frustrating protagonists I have ever encountered: throughout the entire novel, she is either in tears, having a tantrum, or both. The growth and change expected from her never happens, and the plot suffers as a result. Kelsey is frustratingly stuck in her childish ways, making her distant and unrelatable, and her lack of change slows down the novel. Instead of being thrown into the midst of a whodunnit-style thriller, actively piecing together the clues along with Kelsey, I felt removed from and unengaged with the storyline. Feeble, annoying and changeless, Kelsey is responsible for a weakened plot and a frustrated reader.
This novel immediately caught my eye on the bookshelf, and for the right reasons: the premise is unique and gripping, promising in its entirety. However, it fails to deliver that heart-pounding, edge-of-your-seat satisfaction I was looking for. The plot is messy and heavy: too much is happening, and it pollutes the storyline. The twists and turns of the novel begin brilliant and deliver great suspense, but there becomes an unnecessary amount of them, to the point of being hokum. There are so many aspects to Kelsey’s character – her absent father, her sick mother, her strained relationship with her brother. However, these aspects don’t develop or intertwine themselves into the story and ideas of the novel. They don’t add substance or depth; instead, they clog the plot, a crucial mistake to make in a genre that relies on fast-paced action and character development. With most of the ‘embellishments’ to the plot being abandoned anyway, it begs the question: why were they there in the first place?
The recipe for a great thriller is here but, unfortunately, the novel is half-baked in its plot and ideas. But I hold out hope for this writer; her clear and witty style is the saving grace of this book. Had the plot and characters been better developed, the storyline and ideas cleaner overall, I probably would have loved this book. Less of the unnecessary embellishment and more focus on a solid, clean storyline with strong characters, and you’ve got a fantastic book here. Fletcher holds great promise for a novel that will leave you on the edge of your seat. You just won’t find it here.
Hannah Marshall is 15 and from Wellington.