News & Reviews
From Kirkus (Starred Review)
 
Witt's first outing, told by a middle sibling, is the story of a North Carolina family, dysfunctional in touching and sometimes very amusing ways. Morgan-Lee is 15, though she takes us back to earlier years as a way of letting us know who everyone is-and they're quite a bunch. Her slightly older brother Ginx, for starters, is brilliant but autistic, loved intensely by Morgan-Lee, who both wants his praise and wants to protect him-in spite of his often attacking her with pummels that leave real bruises. Younger Dana is the "normal" one, interested in boys but not in her high-mannered, always-exhausted, neurasthenic and hypercritical mother: in fact, Dana has taken to living mainly at the house of ditzy but welcoming Aunt Lois, who gives cosmetic make-overs and affects knowledge of all things about romance, though her husband, Uncle Pete, is if anything an uncut gem. Morgan-Lee's bumbling and mild-mannered father completes the roster-that is, until the tall and slim girl from the wrong side of the tracks, with the name of Sweety-Boy, appears one day selling her homemade jellies and jams. Dana's delight on learning that Sweety-Boy is the sister-well, half-sister-of 16-year-old garage mechanic Jacob leads to a party invitation at Sweety-Boy and Jacob's place. Things go mighty fast from then on-including the party itself, which may be the most brilliantly described, and outright hilarious, portrait of kids and alcohol ever. The portrait deepens, though, as Morgan-Lee takes upon herself the "protection" of Dana and has her own long night's encounter with Jacob (another flawless, pitch-perfect section). Serious trouble follows from the jealous-and, yup, incestuous, plus more-Sweety-Boy, who gets vengeance (in just the right amount, though) on Morgan-Lee in a most interesting way before the tale's perfectly sad and very funny close. Follows old trails, yet everything you come upon seems absolutely new. A real wonder.


From Booklist
 
"I was the fire over which Ginx's soul became less blank, more legible." Morgan-Lee's brother, Ginx, speaks in poetry no one else can understand; only Morgan-Lee can decipher his curious rush of words, chosen for their sound and emotional impact rather than their meaning. Witt's riveting debut is a disturbing, accomplished novel about a girl's coming-of-age in a family broken apart by illness and denial. Writing in Morgan-Lee's voice, Witt reveals crucial information indirectly and in opaque clues that ring true to how Morgan-Lee, still devoted to and protective of her brother, would tell the story. Gradually, readers learn about Ginx's psychological illness and about the fierce possessiveness he feels for his sister, which brings astonishing violence that only increases as Morgan-Lee becomes a teenager and experiments with crushes of her own. Wildly imaginative and intelligent-and deepened by the sometimes seedy North Carolina setting-Witt's novel is an often profound, unsettling story of children struggling to understand love, truth, and sacrifice with little help from ineffectual adults.
--Gillian Engberg

YA/M: Challenging prose, sexual situations, and a revelation of incest limits this to the oldest readers, but the gripping coming-of-age story will draw mature teens. GE.


From Publishers Weekly
 
Told in the dry, savant-like voice of 14-year-old Morgan-Lee, this tale of a Southern girl's coming-of-age gives a droll twist to the tropes of dysfunction. Morgan-Lee and her handsome, "unwell" 15-year-old brother, Ginx, are as emotionally close as twins. They have a secret language-a nonsensical patois that Ginx created-and share a running story about a brother and sister who are given permission to love each other forever and ever. Their mother is an overdelicate flower who's taken to her bed rather than face her son's problems; their father is kind but incapable of taking control; and their younger sister, Dana, has all but abandoned the family, moving into her aunt and uncle's house next door. Everything is proceeding as well as can be expected-one accepts, for example, that it's okay for Ginx to give his sister the occasional concussion-until Morgan-Lee falls in love with her childhood friend, Billy. Neither sibling is prepared for the inevitable as Morgan-Lee's adolescence strains the family bonds and pitches the household into full-blown crisis. Arch, slyly humorous and occasionally overblown ("I felt my jaw throb and swell, drinking the purple and black straight out of that warm evening"), this is an unusual, uncompromising debut.


From Entertainment Weekly
 
Fifty pages into Broken As Things Are, a reader may feel a little stranded in a dense forest of steamy prose and dark Southern gothic themes. Stay a while. Witt's debut, about a 14-year old North Carolina girl and her symbiotic relationship with her disturbed older brother, soon takes a seductive hold, despite its wobbly start. Morgan Lee and Ginx communicate in made-up words, a private language that isolates from the rest of their confused family and their sleepy hometown of eccentrics. When Morgan Lee bends toward a neighborhood boy, Ginx explodes, desperate not to share his one tether to the world. The reward of this intense read is a sister's thoughtful struggle for a way to love her sibling without losing herself.


From Library Journal
A much-touted debut about a young girl's close relationship with her autistic and ultimately violently jealous brother.


Advanced Praise for Broken As Things Are

"Martha Witt's Broken As Things Are is an impressive debut indeed: a strong and beguiling new voice in the tough-Southern-Gothic vein of Carson McCullers and Flannery O'Connor."
John Barth, author of The Sot-Weed Factor


"Broken As Things Are is an intriguing heartfelt novel, rendered in a voice that is both precise and emotionally provocative; readers should enjoy its insights into family life and the revealed nature of those relationships."
Oscar Hijuelos, author of A Simple Habana Melody


"A sensitive southern tale of weirdly imaginative children and hapless adults. Ms. Witt has staked out a territory somewhere between Harper Lee and Flannery O'Connor."
E.L. Doctorow, author of Ragtime


"Broken As Things Are is an enviable, soul-affirming novel. I'll never forget the characters, or the dilemma, haunting Martha Witt's particular American south."
Haven Kimmel, author of A Girl Named Zippy and Something Rising


"Broken As Things Are is that book you have been looking for: an unjaded tale of childhood told fondly and masterfully. Nothing less than the firefly of girlhood captured in the jar of Witt's marvelous prose."
Andrew Sean Greer, author of The Confessions of Max Tivoli


"A comedy of sorrows-written with a poet's precision, a compelling story of young love that effortlessly crosses the border between reality and mystery, gathering into itself insights and revelations available only to a highly singular and deeply human imagination."
Joseph Caldwell, author of Bread for the Baker's Child