WARNING: Reading this article may give away things in the story ranging from unimportant to plot turners.
The Science of Breakable Things by Tae Keller
Type: Children’s, School, Slice of Life
Basic Plot: Natalie’s mother was once an exciting, bustling working mom, but now she’s an empty shell that stays in her room all day. Natalie wants to fix the problems in her family, preferably without adult intervention,
Plot: 3/5 Average: The plot does have some unpredictable twists and a dark topic, but it also has the damper of unlikable characters and humorless snarkiness. The darker theme of the book from the eyes of a preteen will definitely interest adults and children alike, but the overall selfish and juvenile characters in the plot are likely to pull people away from it. Another thing to note is that the plot is still very much the average life of a preteen girl, just done so in a way where everything looks dark and dreary and people do things they should not.
Writing Style and Setup: 3½/5 Average: The book definitely is filled with clever ways of describing situations, ranging from pictures to foot notes to just well thought descriptions. I can not deny the pleasure I felt reading some of the style. The story was told from a first person point of view with a realistic child’s voice. The pace was kept entertaining by filling in time with both necessary and interesting content that all came together at the end.
Moral: 1½/5 Average Moral, Bad Influences: The main moral of the book seemed to be the value of friendship and always being there for someone, as well as new beginnings. While these are not bad morals in themselves, there were two things in the book that took away from it, the briefness of it and the overall bad attitude of all the characters. While a moral does not have to be deeply expounded on to be effective, the one in the book was a bit more brushed over than I would have liked. This is nothing to compare with the negative characters in the book that darkens the overall tone. There is a fine line between realistic characters and unlikable ones, and I feel like the author crossed it. Natalie is extremely pessimistic and inwardly condescending, especially towards adults and in a non-amusing, rude way. Her best friend has an indifferent attitude towards rules and authority and hates her mom. The only person that actually cares about rules just follows his friends around like their pet dog, and all the adults are restless, grouchy, or looked at as stupid. I’m all for being realistic with human nature and faults, but I feel like the book took the point way too far.
Overall: 3/5 Average: The Science of Breakable Things was delivered cleverly and interestingly, but sadly had the worst attitude, nasty characters, and poor moral. For those reasons I do not strongly recommend it, but for those who do want to read it I would say children ten to twelve and older.
Sexual and Inappropriate Content: 1/5 Characters have crushes on each other and blush, sometimes from friendly hugs or touching someone non-romantically. A boy and some girls enter an empty girl’s bathroom to conduct a science experiment, all the while the boy is blushing and is extremely embarrassed. Boys and girls hold hands as friends. A boy and a girl that share a crush hug each other goodbye. A character thinks back how one of her friends talked about nothing but boyfriends. A picture of a flower shows that one of the flower’s parts is the “ovary.” A girl talks about “kick[ing] butt.” It is mentioned that two girls were wearing mini skirts.
Violence: 1½/5 Light Violence: A girl angrily throws a book at a wall. A girl wants to push her parents twice but doesn’t. Characters get in a snowball fight.
Swearing and Using the Lord’s Name in Vain: 0/5 None
Emotional, Intense, and Disturbing Content: 2½/5 Emotional Problems: A main character’s parent suffers deep depression and is mentioned to have done so at least once in the past. She stays in her room all day and her interaction with the main character is drowsy. The book is about the emotional toll it is taking on the family as well as the daughter trying to fix it on her own. Characters break down crying from the stress or are often near tears. A character wants at times “scream” or “collapse.” A character thinks she has a migraine because of all the thoughts entering her head at once, and it is mentioned that her dad gets them. Students dissect frogs in a classroom, and a frog has a grasshopper in its stomach. There is a simple sketch of the frog. When a character’s dad tells her to “open up” she visually imagines herself as the frog and is disturbed. There is a town that was infected with toxic chemicals, killing all the plants, though the people survived. A character does not plant plants in the dark because she does not want them to die. It mentions that characters died in the past. A character laughs until her stomach hurts. A character’s chest hurts from crying. It uses “guerilla warfare” for descriptive purposes and talks about how a boy at school thought of “gorilla warfare.” It uses “bones shattered,” “frozen to death and came back to life and froze all over again,” “dead,” “kill,” “stomach starts cramping,” “warriors marching into battle,” and “war zone” for descriptive purposes.
Religious Issues: 1/5 Some Content: A girl and her dad make Ml for “good luck” and the girl talks about it almost as if she actually believes it. She mentions luck quite often and the word is used for descriptive purposes. A tree is called “the goddess tree.” It uses “ghost” for descriptive purposes.
Magic: 1/5 Brief Mention: It is mentioned that two friends pretended to make “magic potions” as children. A plant is called “magic” and “magical.” It uses “fairy tale” for descriptive purposes.
Others: Characters celebrate Halloween, one girl dressing as a witch. It is hinted that a man riding a bus is drinking and is possibly drunk. A girl’s parents are separated. A person plays an “air guitar.” A character plays the song “Objects in Motion.” It is mentioned that a girl used to dance with her mom. It is mentioned that people used to listen to Bon Jovi. Sherlock Holmes is briefly mentioned for descriptive purposes. It uses “hula dancer,” “waltz” and the phrase “no cigar” for descriptive purposes. A girl has Hello Kitty on her watch. A family once went to Fantasy Land for a vacation, and their daughter wore Mickey Mouse ears.
Overall: 2½/5 Older Child Appropriate: Because of the darker themes of depression and discussions of preteen romance, I would say twelve is the youngest that should start reading this. There is nothing really objectionable morally about the book except maybe the romance and the things mentioned in the Moral section above.