Split by Swati Avasthi

Swati Avasthi Split

280 pp.  Knopf (Random House)  2010  ISBN: 978-0-375-86340-0

Interest: Recommended by friend; Cybils Award 2010

Source: Purchased

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.

I need to say this first: If you’re like me and you’ve had Split sitting in your TBR pile for a while now, or you’ve been meaning to buy it and haven’t, do yourself a favor and read it now.  This book is powerful.  I didn’t really follow the 2010 Cybils awards that closely because I didn’t know much about it (I’ve since corrected that!).  I found out this summer that Split won the fiction award, which piqued my interest that much more.  I really wish I would have read this sooner.

Swati Avasthi has written a really eye-opening novel.  I think many of us have an idea of what an abusive household is like, but reading about it from Jace’s perspective is a completely different experience.  The book begins with him driving from Chicago to his brother Christian’s place in New Mexico.  Jace is really beat up and nervous about going to his brother’s because his brother left years ago.  From the way Jace describes himself, it’s obvious that he suffered a major beating.  Besides this, Christian’s question at the end of chapter one gives us a very clear picture of how abusive their father is: “Did he kill her?”  I can’t imagine that being part of my conversation with my brother, but fortunately I didn’t grow up in a household like that.  Through Jace’s eyes, we know how he feels and how he’s trying to cope with the violence.  His relationship with Christian is strained, especially because Jace feels so different from him.  Christian always has the appearance of being calm and composed when Jace is struggling with the urge for violent outbursts.  Nothing about Jace, or this story, is simple, which is part of why I loved it so much.

Split is written so well that I experienced a variety of emotions while reading.  Many times while Jace was recounting memories of his father beating Christian and/or his mother, I was completely horrified.  And I wasn’t feeling this way just because of the details.  I was horrified by how matter of fact Jace was when he remembered it.  This way of living has made him numb and it broke my heart.  When he was finally making some progress and getting his feet on the ground, I couldn’t help but cheer for him.  Jace is haunted by a secret for most of the book, and even though I had a pretty good idea of what his secret was, when he finally opened up about it I was stunned/upset.  But the roller coaster of emotions doesn’t stop there.  Yes, I was shocked, but Avasthi has us learn this at a pivotal point in the novel.  By this time, I’m so concerned about Jace, I can overlook that.  I simply want him to heal and become the person he wants to be.  Let me tell you, Swati Avasthi knows what she’s doing.

As a teacher, sometimes it’s obvious when a student is being abused and I know I need to take action.  Unfortunately, some abusers know how to hide what they’re doing.  I hope that by having this book in my classroom, I’ll be able to help those students open up and find the help they need.  I also hope it will help those students who are suffering with becoming abusers themselves.  This is an excellent novel that deserves more attention.  I hope I was able to do it enough justice in my review, even though I’ve been struggling with how to accurately describe how wonderful it is.

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