Allie lost everything the night her boyfriend, Trip, died in a horrible car accident—including her memory of the event. As their small town mourns his death, Allie is afraid to remember because doing so means delving into what she’s kept hidden for so long: the horrible reality of their abusive relationship.

When the police reopen the investigation, it casts suspicion on Allie and her best friend, Blake, especially as their budding romance raises eyebrows around town. Allie knows she must tell the truth. Can she reach deep enough to remember that night so she can finally break free? Debut writer Jennifer Shaw Wolf takes readers on an emotional ride through the murky waters of love, shame, and, ultimately, forgiveness.

GoodReads | Amazon

Breaking Beautiful had me anxiously turning pages through the day and night. When I wasn’t reading it, I was thinking about it. Would Allie ever remember what happened that night? Was it really just an accident? Did anyone  witness Trip’s abuse of Allie? If so, why didn’t they do anything about it? There’s no way Trip is still alive… is there?

Growing up, I loved murder mysteries and mysteries in general. I devoured Nancy Drew and The Hardy Boys. I borrowed and bought every single Mary Higgins Clark and Lisa Jackson book I could get my grubbies on. Looking back, it’s no wonder I had vivid dreams of knives, guns, and mysterious shadows! To this day, I still enjoy mysteries and the “thrill of the hunt” that accompanies them.

Breaking Beautiful is a wonderful contemporary mystery, geared towards Young Adults. It addresses the far-reaching effects and consequences of physical and emotional abuse, and does not attempt to romanticize it or gloss over the seriousness of the subject. As Allie relived the horrific abuse she suffered at the hands of Trip, the boy who was supposed to love and protect her, I had such a strong urge to reach into the pages of the book and hold her close.

The foggy memories of the days preceeding and following the car accident that took Trip’s life and left Allie wounded but alive, slowly bubble to the surface as the mystery unfolds. The pacing of Breaking Beautiful is almost perfect, with just a couple “soft spots” where things felt a bit halting. I think it was more because I was so frustrated with Allie at times, as she continued to lie and “cover” for Trip, which just hurt her and the people around her even more.

I really enjoyed the characters in Breaking Beautiful. Allie’s twin brother, Andrew, was a really loveable character. Disabled since birth and bound to a wheelchair, he was still a very strong, fiercely loyal boy that stuck to his guns and didn’t let anyone baby him. I love how protective he is of Allie, and the descriptions of his laugh made me smile.

Blake, Allie’s best friend and new love interest, eventually won me over, too. Initially, I wasn’t convinced of Blake’s feelings toward Allie because I felt there hadn’t been enough build-up of their prior friendship. However, as they grew closer and Allie’s memory touched on the “little things” that had passed between them as children, I finally understood what she loved about him.

I did have a slight issue with the portryal of Trip’s character, in that I wish I had known more about him than the fact that he was an abusive, controlling jerk. He can’t have always been that way. I certainly have my suspicions on how he became an abuser, and I wish that side of the coin had been focused on a bit more. There’s usually not just one victim in an abusive relationship. (Full disclosure: Abuse of any kind is wrong, and I do not condone it. However, I do understand the trickle-down effect that sometimes arises from long-term abuse.)

Jennifer Shaw Wolf captured the small-town feel and the personalities that go with it very well. Pacific Cliffs is the kind of place where everyone knows your name – and your business. These are all people we know in our own lives: the popular cheerleader who can do no wrong; the outcast “juvenile delinquent” who surprises everyone in the end; the haughty father that attempts to use his financial and societal rank to harrass and ruin otherwise good people; and the grandma who doesn’t judge or pity anyone. I felt that each of the characters were well-written and that just enough focus was placed on their main characteristic to relate to the story.

Ultimately, I feel that Breaking Beautiful excels at showing us the worst and the best in humankind, and reminding us that closing our eyes to the suffering of others does not mean that it ceases to exist. Abuse is real. Suffering is real. When you witness it, stand up and say something. Don’t let another “Allie” or “Trip” slip through the cracks.