Split by Swati Avasthi
When Jace Witherspoon arrives at Christian Marshall’s address after 19 hours of driving straight from Chicago to Albuquerque, he’s not quite sure what he’s going to say. “‘I was in the neighborhood,’ … ‘I’m just here to borrow a cup of sugar,’ … ‘One more stop in the eternal quest for the perfect burrito.'” Uhhh, maybe not. Five years have passed since Jace, 16, last saw his older brother Christian, who left the family and dropped their shared surname.
Without saying a word, Jace’s “face will tell half the story” – bloody and mangled, Jace has been ejected by their abusive father. “For the other half,” Jace thinks to himself, “I’ll keep my mouth shut and lie by omission. Someday I’ll fess up, tell him the whole deal, and then he can perform a lobotomy or whatever it takes.”
The brothers’ reunion is tentative. Guilt, anger, abandonment, betrayal get in the way. As Christian created another life for himself – college on his own, now medical school, a year-old steady relationship with hapa Mirriam – Jace, too, must figure out who he will be, away from their violent father and victimized mother.
In his new high school, Jace makes a “bastard-no-longer” pledge to himself, trying to start fresh. Possessed by vivid memories of his Chicago girlfriend (“ex-girlfriend,” he keeps reminding himself), he’s determined to stay unattached, in spite of the queen bee’s attention at school and his co-worker Dakota’s charm at the bookstore where he gets a part-time job. He easily gets on the varsity soccer team, although his talent challenges the resident testosterone. For Christian’s sake, he reluctantly navigates new waters with Mirriam, who teaches English at the high school, and seems to want to play shrink at home.
Swati Avasthi‘s debut novel is a heart-pounding powerhouse, infused with even greater immediacy if you choose to go aural with Joshua Swanson’s jolting, potent narration. While domestic abuse is hardly a new topic, Avasthi confronts the tragically familiar problem from a seldom-seen vantage point: what happens after a child escapes an abusive family situation. By creating two brothers in the same family, Avasthi hauntingly demonstrates the possibility of different reactions, consequences, outcomes. Without ever resorting to bathos, she offers no easy, magic-wand conclusions: abuse does not erase love, forgiveness is not unconditional, repairing family bonds is never guaranteed, and escape doesn’t always equal freedom.
Readers: Young Adult