Review: Split by Swati Avasthi

Split by Swati Avasthi
Swati Avasthi's website here // $11.55 from {amazon}

Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers (March 9, 2010)
Hardcover: 288 pages
Summary: from {goodreads}
Sixteen-Year-Old Jace Witherspoon arrives at the doorstep of his estranged brother Christian with a re-landscaped face (courtesy of his father’s fist), $3.84, and a secret.

He tries to move on, going for new friends, a new school, and a new job, but all his changes can’t make him forget what he left behind—his mother, who is still trapped with his dad, and his ex-girlfriend, who is keeping his secret.
At least so far.

Worst of all, Jace realizes that if he really wants to move forward, he may first have to do what scares him most: He may have to go back. First-time novelist Swati Avasthi has created a riveting and remarkably nuanced portrait of what happens after. After you’ve said enough, after you’ve run, after you’ve made the split — how do you begin to live again? Readers won’t be able to put this intense page-turner down.

Rating: View my rating system. 

My Thoughts: Split was a touching reminder that family is always, always a point your universe centers around, regardless of whether that’s good or bad. I’ll honestly admit that I love the short summary of Split; “re-landscaped face (courtesy of his father’s fist, $3.84, and a secret” is genius and definitely hooked me from page -1. So before you put this book down because of the cover (I’m not going to lie, the cover is not attractive), do yourself a favor and read the summary. Please. It might not be for you, but the perhaps sub-par appearance hides a beautiful debut.

The summary is exactly what this book is about, Jace Witherspoon, a teenage boy, running from his abusive father. Jace has always been part of a broken and fragmented family; his mother takes the abuse, his brother ran away years ago, and he has never felt valued by any of his family members. The plot really picks up from there, and we see Jace established as a perceptive, intuitive boy who, in some ways, is mature beyond his years whereas, in others, he’s very much a teenager that’s struggling to find personal identity and niche in his unique family. Other than the occasional anger management struggles, which are understandable considering his upbringing, and his mischievous streak, Jace is the perfect boy; he’s athletic, cute, considerate, understanding, and sweet. That's not to say he doesn't come with all the negatives of many teenage boys, but the balance is perfect in that his flaws - and he definitely has some - aren’t overwhelming enough to rule out his good points while still adding that extra realistic touch. My favorite part is that Jace’s voice is spot-on to the angst-y teenager he is, and I found myself quickly drawn into his story. I won’t be absolutely obsessing over Jace anytime soon to the point of Alex (Perfect Chemistry), but he’s definitely a more realistic definition of an "ideal" guy.

As for the premise as a whole, I think Swati Avasthi did a wonderful job tackling the abusive relationship. As I read, I started to see Jace's father as not entirely evil and, in fact, maybe in some ways nice... but just when I would start seeing the other side of things, Swati really had a knack for reminding me that, yes, Jace’s father is abusive. He nails his wife’s hands to the wall. Literally. (I think that almost made me gag, but it's memorable.) Setting aside the extent to how repulsive and disgusting some of Jace’s father’s actions are, Swati made it clear that abusive is not an exclusive term; just because someone is labeled “abusive,” he/she is still a person that has his/her own feelings and desires. I’m by no means advocating abuse, but twisted (let’s say very, very twisted) desires are still desires. Jace is also labeled “broken,” “abused,” etc. by his brother and brother’s girlfriend, Mirriam. I really saw how these labels played into Jace’s definition as a person and how much he had to fight to prove to them that, again, he’s a person that can’t just be categorized as something to be objectively studied, properly aided, then efficiently discarded. Split really enforced that as much as we say labels are “bad,” shouldn’t be used, and prejudiced, that doesn’t stop people from automatically labeling others. I’m not going as far to say we incorrectly label others all the time, but they’re not all inclusive and all exclusive, which can be hard to remember, especially when dealing with “victims” and “perpetuators.”

My largest complaint with Split is that I would have liked to see more of some secondary characters. There was enough information to be enjoyable, but not enough that I felt like I could truly relate and sympathize with them. Theb there were some I simply found interesting and wanted to see appear more often. The only one that really annoyed me at times was Christian, Jace's brother, who would at times seem helpful and understanding, then do a 180 degree turnabout be unwilling to understand what Jace was going through; ugh, fickleness does not become him. In general, the secondary characters were by no means a major detractor, but it could have made the book even better for me. Then, of course, we approach the ending... it was good though in that the door to the future was open just right; it's not the fairytale ending but a hopeful beginning. A couple unexpected but logical twists made it interesting, and my heart was weeping on Jace's behalf until the very last few pages. A very clean, simple, and effective ending that wrapped up Split perfectly.

Overall, I strongly applaud Swati Avasthi for her fantastic, memorable debut and will be watching out for her works in the future!

Romance: Kissing... I really didn't feel like the romance was a major part of the book, though it was still very much there. Instead, the romance felt like it was a smaller part of the whole concept. There is a bit of kissing though.
Cover: 1.5 -- I guess I can see where the keys come from, but this cover just doesn't work for me. It's definitely not one I would pick up at first glance from the book store.
Writing: 4.5
Characters: 4.5
Plot: 5.0

Bottom Line: Memorable. Intricate. Real. Fans of young adult books dealing with what can be deemed as "deeper" issues or concepts, Split is a book for you.

(Changed format of "bottom line;" what do you think?)

Thank you to Goodreads First Reads for providing me with a copy!