Book Review

Break This House

Break This House

  • Author: Candice Iloh
  • Genre: YA Contemporary Fiction
  • Publication Date: May 24, 2022
  • Publisher: Penguin Teen

Thank you to BookishFirst and Penguin Teen for providing me with an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.

CONTENT WARNING: grief, death of a parent

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Yaminah Okar left Obsidian and the wreckage of her family years ago. She and her father have made lives for themselves in Brooklyn. She thinks she’s moved on to bigger and better things. She thinks she’s finally left behind that city she would rather forget. But when a Facebook message about her estranged mother pierces Yaminah’s new bubble, memories of everything that happened before her parents’ divorce come roaring back. Now Yaminah must finally reckon with the truth about her mother and the looming collapse of a place she once called home.

After reading the sneak peek of this on BookishFirst, I was desperately hoping to get a copy. And when it arrived, I couldn’t wait to start it. It doesn’t hurt that it makes me feel like I’m making some progress on my never-ending and constantly expanding list of ARCs. This book turned out to be an absolute powerhouse in just over 200 pages.

This is one of those fast reads that can be read in a single sitting, not just because it’s easy to fly through, but also because I just couldn’t put it down. Yaminah is 16 years old and has moved from Obsidian, Michigan to Brooklyn, New York a few years back, and is doing everything that she can to forget the painful memories she left behind. But, as we all know, moving doesn’t solve all problems, especially the hurts that we keep inside. And when Yaminah gets an invitation to a family reunion in honor of her recently deceased mother, it turns her entire world upside down.

The writing is beautiful, descriptive, and genuine. It was easy to relate to Yaminah and what she’s going through in this story, The dialogue is written informally, and feels so real to anyone who’s spent any amount of time in the boroughs. And simply reading about what her life is like and what she sees in Brooklyn feels so realistic it was as though I was transported to the diverse streets of Brooklyn, with all the sounds, sights, and smells that I know are there.

At its core, this is a deeply moving story about learning to express yourself and process emotions in a world that tells us to hide them away. Yaminah struggles with the complex feelings she’s been stuffing down, and they explode out of her, especially once she finds herself drawn back into the family dynamics she’s been trying to leave behind. It is an emotional story of grief, loss, acceptance, and learning how to process emotions, many of which are difficult for people of any age, let alone as a teenager.

“You can type LOL and send heart-shaped emojis in a text without anybody knowing that you’re sad. Or that anything’s wrong with you. You can type anything without the person on the other end knowing what’s really up.”

It isn’t always easy to read her interactions with the other characters, although some of them are definitely more likable that others, but each character in the story is meaningful and vital to the story. I especially loved that there isn’t any info dumping, but rather snippets revealed throughout the story. I couldn’t quite get a handle on what to expect, especially at first. But as more comes to light, and we start to see some journal-type entries interspersed between the chapters, I had my suspicions which turned out to be correct. And we learn more as Yaminah does and starts to process the new information that she’s learning:

“I read somewhere that people can read palms and tell things about the future and about past lives. I wonder now if somewhere in my palms it can tell me how my mama still has the power to make me feel like something’s missing even when she’s dead.”

This is a fabulous book, and it’s definitely one that’s going to stay with me for a long time. It’s beautifully written, and immensely relatable, while also talking about coping with emotions, difficult family dynamics, gentrification, poverty, and the importance of family. And it’s one of the best books I’ve read this month.

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