Patricia Wellingham-Jones — Someone shoves a photo negative into Rowan’s hands, prompting a shift in her life and her family’s coping with grief. This is the synopsis of Jenny Valentine’s touching novel Broken Soup (HarperTeen, 2009).
Two years ago, Rowan’s big brother, Jack, died. Mom retreated into depression and pills, and spent her life sleeping; Dad drifted away from the pain until he was gone altogether; Rowan, age 15, went to school, took care of the house and little sister Stroma, and tried to keep her father from knowing how bad things were for fear of being taken away from mother and home; and almost-six Stroma knew things were hard but had an irrepressible view of life’s good things. In a poignant comment about her parents, Rowan says, “But after Jack died, they protected themselves by refusing to love us, the kids who had dying still to do. And it fell to us to keep ourselves alive until somebody remembered we were there.”
One day Rowan is handed a photo negative by a boy who insists she dropped it. Knowing she didn’t, but unwilling to make more fuss in an already burdened life, she shoves it in her pocket and walks away. Later, an older girl, Bee, befriends her and winds up developing the negative into a vibrant picture of Jack.
The book twists around this mystery, trying to locate the true owner of the photo and why s/he had it. Rowan seeks out the boy, Harper, who lives in a rehabbed ambulance and becomes a staunch friend. Throughout, she stuffs her grief over Jack deep down inside.
At the market with Stroma, she says to herself, “I didn’t have time to lose it. I didn’t have time to lie down in the corner shop and scream and beat the floor until my hands bled. I didn’t have time to miss Jack.”
Jenny Valentine draws a fine portrait of the characters dealing with loss and grief and the different ways they find to cope in this young adult book. Despite the sorrow pervading the story, it is full of joy and sometimes unwilling laughter (thank you, Stroma), resilience and hope.
About the Author
Patricia Wellingham-Jones is a former psychology researcher and writer/editor with an interest in healing writing and the benefits of writing and reading work together. Widely published in poetry and nonfiction, she writes for the review department of Recovering the Self: a journal of hope and healing and has authored ten chapbooks of poetry.