In this harrowing debut, 11-year-old Skunk Cunningham lies in a coma recounting the recent events of her neighborhood. The psychopathic Oswald sisters and their even-more-psychopathic father, Bob, have subjected the street to a cyclone of violence. The storm ultimately pulls in Skunk’s teenaged neighbor Rick Buckley, after one of the sisters accuses him of rape, and Rick becomes the "Broken" Buckley for which the book is named. While some listeners might find the grim procession of events dispiriting, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Performer Colin Moody does an excellent job conveying the emotion of the events and finding the right voice for each character.
Skunk Cunningham is an 11-year-old girl in a coma. She has a loving dad, an absent mother and a brother who plays more X-Box than is good for him. She also has the neighbors from hell: the five Oswald girls and their thuggish father Bob, vicious bullies all of them, whose reign of terror extends unchallenged over their otherwise quiet suburban street.
And yet terrifying though they undoubtedly are, the stiletto-wearing, cider-swilling Oswald girls are also sexy - so when Saskia asks shy, virginal Rick Buckley for a ride in his new car, he can't believe his luck. Too bad that Saskia can't keep her big mouth shut. When, after a quick fumble, she broadcasts Rick's deficiencies to anyone who will listen, it puts ideas into her younger sister's silly head - ideas that will see Rick dragged off to prison, humiliated, and ultimately, in his father's words, 'broken' by the experience.
From her hospital bed, Skunk guides us through the events that follow, as Saskia's small act of thoughtlessness slowly spreads through the neighborhood in a web of increasing violence. Skunk watches as her shabby, hardworking father finds love, only for her courageous, idealistic teacher to lose it; as poor 'Broken' Buckley descends into madness, while across the street her brother Jed makes his first adolescent forays into sex; and as her own gentle romance with soft-hearted, tough-talking Dillon struggles to survive against a backdrop that seamlessly combines the sublime and the ridiculous. As we inch ever closer to the mystery behind her coma, Skunk's innocence becomes a beacon by which we navigate a world as comic as it is tragic, and as effortlessly engaging as it is ultimately uplifting, in this brilliant and utterly original debut novel.
©2008 Daniel Clay; (P)2008 Bolinda Publishing Pty Ltd
I'd recommend this book. Definitely has some unexpected twists and turns and is a bit dark in parts, but you can't put it down until you figure out how it all will end. There are some loose parallels to "To Kill a Mockingbird", but if you weren't a fan of that book, don't let that stop you. This is a modern day book with a suspensful plot.
books & coffee
I loved "To Kill a Mockingbird" and expected a similar story. But it is really nothing like Mockingbird. I really enjoyed it though and have been trying to figure out if I would have enjoyed it as much had I read it rather than listened to it. I very much enjoyed the narrator. He was perfect for the book. The story is at times rather intense but it's worth the ride.
"Powerful, shocking and beautiful"
This shocking story is told by Skunk Cunningham (so named because her mum liked the group), who is 11 years old and in a coma.
We do not know why she is there until towards the end of the story, but she tells us of the events leading up to it, starting with the violent beating of teenage neighbour Rick Buckley by another neighbour (Bob Oswald) for something that he didn’t do.
Rick then becomes the ‘Broken’ of the title, and referred to as Broken Buckley throughout.
Bob’s life however seems to continue reasonably unchanged – father to five daughters who are just as thuggishly violent as him. Drink, drugs and sex help the days pass for the Oswald girls, and they revel in their reign of terror over everyone they know – including Skunk who is in class with one of them.
Skunk wants to enjoy just being a kid, playing too much X-Box with her older brother, forming a crush on her teacher (who also happens to be the boyfriend of their Welsh au pair – needed because their mum ran away to Spain years ago) and riding out in the sun on her bike.
But, living on this rather down-trodden square in Southampton that is lorded over by the Oswalds, Skunk is privvy to more violence, swearing, sex and criminal activity than is good for her. And yet her narration still has a naivety about it, and a poetic repetition that is somehow childlike, and lures the reader to its shocking and dramatic climax.
This isn’t like a modern day To Kill A Mockingbird, this is a contemporary realisation – evident even in the names that have been used (eg Skunk = Scout). Daniel Clay has made no secret of the fact that this was the inspiration for the story.
I listened to the audiobook, and Colin Moody’s narration was just right – a clever mixture of ‘telling’ what was coming in an ‘unaccented’ voice, and then accents used for actual speech, or when Skunk was narrating.
The performance just didn't work with the story. The quality was inconsistent and the accents are very poor in places. This jarred and spoiled the story for me.
"So insightful, a really good story"
The perspective it was written from, and the research that had obviously been carried out to make it credible. It also (sadly) illustrates some housing challenges in modern Britain.I did find the language a little challenging to begin with but to be honest it was justified in adding to the richness of the characters
The hope it gives us all and the importance of family.
The final scene when she wakes, or at least the internal dialogue is the decision to wake.
All of it for different reasons.
Not for those who cannot tolerate bad language.
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