Breakaway by Kat Spears
When Jason Marshall’s younger sister passes away, he knows he can count on his three best friends and soccer teammates—Mario, Jordie, and Chick—to be there for him. With a grief-crippled mother and a father who’s not in the picture, he needs them more than ever. But when Mario starts hanging out with a rough group of friends and Jordie finally lands the girl of his dreams, Jason is left to fend for himself while maintaining a strained relationship with troubled and quiet Chick.
Then Jason meets Raine, a girl he thinks is out of his league but who sees him for everything he wants to be, and he finds himself pulled between building a healthy and stable relationship with a girl he might be falling in love with, grieving for his sister, and trying to hold on to the friendships he has always relied on.
A witty and emotionally moving tale of friendship, first love, and loss, Breakaway is Kat Spears at her finest.
The graphic designer in me is fascinated with color. Something so simple as a palette of hues is, in actuality, a layered field of study. Some colors work in harmony, while others, in contrast, create chaos. Some colors convey meanings of power and mystery, while others have connotations of youth and happiness. Some colors are in abundance in our natural world, while others are but a rare occurrence. In short: colors define what we see. What prompted this brief lesson in color theory? Breakaway, the sophomore novel from author Kat Spears and a book I devoured in early December. Dressed in bubblegum pink and bright blue, the cover might lead you to believe that you’re diving into a light romance, but Spears’ second published work is heavier, harsher. Writing with conviction, she crafts a story of contemporary’s favorite trifecta: family, friends, and first love, dazzling me – and seemingly every other reader – in the process.
Breakaway opens in grief: the protagonist’s young sister recently passed away, and with his mother drowning in her own sadness and his friends slowly drifting apart, all Jason – known more commonly as Jaz – can do is care for himself. This is not an easy story to read, nor, can I imagine, that is was an easy story to write; in other words, if it’s an emotional roller-coaster for the reader, then it can only be more intense of a ride for the author. Spears writes with no holds barred, finding an authentic style that allows her to take risks without losing sight of the story at hand. Similar to other books that fall under the “gritty” category, this is a character driven novel, but that’s not to say that the plot doesn’t hold substance: Jaz’s growth occurs among soccer games between rival schools, nights at the bar and restaurant in which he works, and the ubiquitous high school gatherings that YA authors seem to know and love.
I’ve always admired authors who write from personas so far unrelated to their own. Not because it’s a method that’s particularly ground-breaking – writing and reading from a different perspective is the definition of fiction, after all – but because when done well, one can forget that what they’re reading is not from the mind of the narrator. Spears does this here, capturing the teenage voice with ease, particularly one wracked with sorrow over the loss of a loved one. Jaz could very well be representative of someone I know; his friends, Mario, who has turned to a rough crowd, Jordie, torn between his wealthy upbringing and the crowd he’s grown up with, and Chick, an innocent, if awkward soul, could be kids from the next town over; Raine, Jaz’s love interest, could be someone a classroom away. Neither Jaz nor his friends are without their flaws, but these “reprehensible” qualities are what bring them to life. A realistic character is much more interesting to me than a perfect one.
What shortfalls arise – that Jaz’s sister, at times, feels like a mere plot device, that the connections and relationships between characters seem to grow only to move the plot along, that what shock factor the ending achieves isn’t matched by the significance of the matter at hand – can be overlooked, because they’re not significant when one looks at Jaz’s story from afar. Spears wields a delicate subtlety in the discussion of love and death, applying no flairs and no fluff to the experiences that humans hold so dear to their hearts. She strips down the rush of emotion that comes with falling in love and the overwhelming crush of feelings that arrives with loss to writing – a clear indicator of her power with words, if I ever saw one. Don’t let the cover fool you: this is a raw realistic fiction worth reading, regardless of gender, regardless of age. I’m incredibly impressed.