Rating: 5 stars
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One horrible night two years ago changed Aaron Downing’s life forever. With the loss of his best friend and the boy he used to be, Aaron has walked through the past two years as a shell of the person he once was. His parents walk on eggshells around him, trying but unable to help him. The brothers who once worshipped him now pity him, and the long line of shrinks he’s been forced to see don’t know how to treat him – simply medicating him as much as possible to give those around him some peace. The scars that cover his body remind Aaron daily of what he’s been through and what he’s become. Nightmares, flashbacks, and fears plague his life. Routine has become a necessity, so starting college classes scares Aaron beyond belief.
Spencer Thomas is beginning a new chapter in his life as well. With his aunt across the country and his ex-tutor turned ex-boyfriend now out of the picture, Spencer’s support system lies in the hands of his formerly successful psychologist (now alcoholic) father. Living life as “the deaf boy” has never appealed to Spencer. He only wants to be normal, to belong, for someone to look at him and actually see him and not his disability.
When Aaron and Spencer are paired together for a class project, Aaron’s fears and insecurities threaten to close him off from the one step he’s taken to try and move on with his life. As Spencer and Aaron work out their fears in spending time with one another, a friendship develops. Opening up about their pasts and fears takes longer, but eventually both find what they need in each other – unconditional, unwavering support. With that support comes the beginning of healing and an attraction that turns into a tentative relationship. But with an overprotective family, Aaron finds himself in a situation that threatens not only his relationship with Spencer, but the steps Aaron has taken to move beyond the trauma in his past.
A Broken Kind of Life by Jamie Mayfield is a young adult adaptation of the novel Aaron by author J.P. Barnaby.
I’m not sure that I have the words to express the beauty of this book. Honestly, I’m not even sure where to begin. Do I tell you of the broken boy who looks at his life and sees no hope, no future? Do I tell you of the boy who is defined by the fact that he can’t hear and not by the person he is? Do I tell you of a family that is struggling for some sense of normalcy while their oldest son falls deeper and deeper into a depression they can do nothing about? Do I tell you of a man who lost the love of his life and raised a son on his own? Do I tell you of an author who penned a story that is both beautiful and scary at the same time? What I will tell you first is that you must read this book.
I can’t tell you about all the horrible things I see in my head.
I can’t clearly articulate what it’s like to die inside.
I can’t describe what it’s like to want to scream every minute of every day.
So I think it’s only natural to start with Aaron and Spencer. This author is a master of characterization. Putting readers in the place of the main characters. Making readers feel the emotion, the trauma, the pain that these characters feel. I am in awe of what Mayfield is able to accomplish with both Aaron and Spencer in such a short amount of time. Aaron, the broken, beautiful boy who struggles to move on if only to see his family happier. The boy who suffered a trauma and a loss so devastating that most could not move beyond it. Aaron is my hero. He is so much stronger and braver than he gives himself credit for.
And Spencer, the immovable rock, the support that Aaron didn’t know he needed. Dealing with his own past, his own fears, and his own family problems, Spencer always puts Aaron first. He’s so patient and giving. Even while reading this book, and after, I can’t see Spencer as “the deaf boy.” He’s so much more than that. Regardless of how he communicates, Spencer is an amazing person. He’s strong and confident in a way that encourages Aaron’s healing. He’s beautiful on so many different levels – inside, outside, as a friend, as a son, as a boyfriend. He’s Aaron’s perfect match, his balance.
…he didn’t want to hope. If he started to hope things were getting better when they weren’t, that would devastate him further when his parents finally sent him away.
The family dynamics in this story are hard. Outside of Aaron and Spencer’s friendship/relationship, the family side of this story is my favorite aspect. The relationship between Aaron, his parents, and his brothers is strained. But as the story progresses, what once were the fears his brothers held, the protectiveness of his mother, the helplessness of this father, become a family healing. Then there is Spencer and his dad. They are not perfect by any means, but with the addition of Aaron in their lives the bond between Spencer and his father begins a healing process as well. The realness, the rawness of the families and their walks are a wonderful part of this story.
Darkness pervades my every thought, my every action. There is nothing, not a single reprieve from the horror that lives inside my head. It has ensconced itself, as surely as if it had been born there. Maybe it had. Had there always been a dark place inside of me, and it merely took that one unspeakable act of violence to unleash it?
But what of the light?
Let me not leave out the beauty that is this story. It’s dark and emotional. It’s a story of fears and hopes. It’s difficult to walk the journey with Aaron, but so rewarding. Technically, the writing is flawless and perfectly planned. This author drew me in at the first sentence and held my attention and my heart to the very last word. I hurt. I cried. I felt hope. I was moved beyond words. And I felt a new fight, a new passion as if I were in this story with Aaron and Spencer.
This book is full of difficult subject matter – rape, murder, suicide. Yet this author takes those subjects, as part of a broken boy’s life, and grows that boy into something he never thought he could be. This author shines a light of hope where only darkness reigns and that is the beauty of what is written in this book. The journey through the flashbacks and nightmares, the therapy (as hard as it is) makes the healing process and feeling of hope that much more amazing.
This book, the story of Aaron and Spencer, has captivated me. I’m not sure that this review does the book justice, but if you take anything away from it let it be that A Broken Life by Jamie Mayfield is a book that you must read.
Highly, highly recommended.
Note: This book is written by author J.P. Barnaby under the pen name Jamie Mayfield, a character in her Little Boy Lost series.