Craving a story that will stay with you long after you turn the final page? With Beautiful Broken Girls, author Kim Savage created a haunting portrait of the effects of heterosexual male gaze on two extraordinary young girls.
Mira sends Ben on a post-mortem quest to find notes that explain why she and her sister drowned. But the truth behind the girls’ suicides has to do with a dangerous infatuation, a deadly miracle, and a crushing lie.
What should readers expect when they read Beautiful Broken Girls?
I’m going to cheat and quote the last line of Booklist’s review: “Prepare to be shocked, and have plenty of tissues handy.”
Beautiful Broken Girls is, in a word, complex. There are twists, turns, and hidden depths on each page that are revealed to us through the lens of unreliable narrators and in non-chronological order. What was it like creating such a complex book and keeping track of all those depths?
The story starts with Ben receiving Mira’s letter, which says,
Everyone wanted to touch us. Including you. / So remember the seven places you touched me. / That’s where you’ll find the truth. / Start at the beginning. In my words
The chapters that follow are named for the parts of Mira that Ben touched: palm, hair, chest, cheek, lips, throat, heart. Within each chapter, first, you get Ben’s story in the present, as he finds each note, comes to believe the girls were abused, and speeds toward an explosive confrontation with the girls’ father. Then, you get Mira’s story in the months leading to her death, when Francesca makes a deadly choice and Mira is consumed both by saving her, and her own need to escape Bismuth.
Also, Ben’s remembers his encounters with Mira (the brush of fingers on a palm, a kiss on the lips, and so on).
As for story, I knew from the beginning that each character’s life would be forever changed by having been touched. Ben was touched by his coach; Mira by Ben; Cousin Connie by Francesca; Francesca by her lover and also, maybe, by her God. I followed the threads, and the plot unfurled.
Throughout the novel, you explore what is perceived as healthy (such as Mr. Cilla’s extreme protectiveness of Mira and Francesca) by those outside of a family unit, but is in fact not. Why was it important to you to show show the consequences of the constricting reality of Mr. Cilla’s patriarchal protectiveness over the girls?
Beautiful Broken Girls is a story of people trying to make connections but failing. Frank Cillo loves his daughters, but he is also terrified of their power. Being overprotective is the only way he knows to show his love. Their lives—limited socializing, no electronics, a no dating rule—makes them seem weird to the boys, but also “other.” The girls only have each other and their cousin Connie, and their world becomes dangerously small: so small they have no one to confide in when things get strange. Ultimately, they decide they have to leave it, each for her own reasons.
Beautiful Broken Girls was your foray into boy voice, as you say in your FAQ. How did the experience of writing through the voice of a young boy in this novel differ compared to writing through a girl’s POV (if it did at all)?
I should update that, because it’s no longer true. Beautiful Broken Girls’s POV is third person limited to Ben, but 50% of it is Mira telling her story.
By way of process: I wrote a novel about a girl, and the effects of a collective heterosexual male gaze on her. I thought the story should unfold mainly through the eyes of one of those boys who may or may not be a reliable witness. It leads to interesting questions about how reliable the narrator is. Like, Ben considers himself “one of the good ones,” and he wants to be Mira’s savior, but is his idealization of her that different from the neighborhood boys’ objectification? It’s for the reader to decide.
One of the strongest aspects of the novel is its sense of place. We get a brilliant view of small-town Massachusetts and the quarry where the characters more often than not end up. Tell us about creating such a intricately planned world. What was it you wished to convey through setting this particular story in the particular place you did?
What a great question. Also, thanks! Bismuth is a town south of Boston that’s in decline. Like the toxic Quarry lake that looks pristine on the surface, sickness lurks underneath. The town is full of contradictions. For example, it’s suffocating, yet isolating. Mira and Francesca can’t go a block without bumping into someone connected to their father. At the same time, Ben has no idea what was going on right next door:
Mira had given him a puzzle, one that Ben could solve, that would give him answers for the holes that haunted him, the parts of Mira’s life between what he saw from his bedroom window, and the diluted version he got when they were among friends. For Ben had spent endless hours wondering about the pretty mysteries of Mira’s life that seemed far away, but were playing out right next door.
It was important for me to convey a close-knit community where there can still be mysteries. Come to think of it, Shirley Jackson has proven small towns are the creepiest of all, right?
Is there anything you’d like those reading this to know about your novel? Anything I haven’t touched on you’d like to mention?
That this is a good time for a story about what it means to be objectified, however you identify. That it’s a good time for people to explore through books what it means when people in a community aren’t connecting on the most basic levels. That it’s a good time for serious fiction that leaves readers thinking long after.
Finally, I don’t know what 2017 will bring — and frankly, I’m a little afraid — but there is something in Beautiful Broken Girls for every reader: thumping suspense, sweet romance, mystery, miracles, faith, and redemption. I hope readers find a place in their hearts for it.