(Note on Cover - this is the British cover, my galley had a different one)
Rowan’s older brother Jack has been dead just over two years. Her mother is catatonic, her father left just as soon as he could, and so Rowan is left holding together the fort for her six year old sister. Then one day a boy hands her a photo negative telling her she’s dropped it. She knows it’s not hers, but she takes it anyway. Then a girl whom Rowan has admired from afar approaches her at school to ask what the boy handed her. Together they develop the photo and it sends them onto a path that neither of them had expected.
This is, at its center, a story of grief. It is about a family who was devastated when a beloved son and brother died accidentally. The back cover of the galley I read promoted the book as a mystery. Yes, there was a bit of a mystery in the story, but I think it is vastly misleading. It is not anything like her previous novel Me, The Missing and the Dead other than the fact it is also well written.
Broken Soup is nothing if not tenderly told and extremely touching. Valentine has a way with words that makes her slender novels incredibly rich with detail, emotion, and setting. The relationships that Rowan develops with Bee (the girl who develops the photo with her), Harper (the boy who handed her the negative), her dead brother jack (which we learn about through reminisces) and her sister Stroma were beautifully developed and heart wrenching.
There was one plot point that I thought was out of left field, although perhaps a re-read would show that there were hints in the story although a quick flip through didn’t convince me of that. Sonny, Bee’s 2 year old brother, turns out to be her and Jack’s son (2 months in the womb at the time of Jack’s death). This is revealed near the end of the book. Rowan had spent what seemed to me to be quite a bit of time with Sonny and Bee, I wondered why in all that time he never called Bee mommy as it was clear she was raising him (with help from her father) and was not hiding the relationship from him. Its not that I minded that Sonny was Bee’s son, I thought it was actually quite lovely (despite a romantic take on teenaged motherhood being somewhat problematic). The reaction of Rowan to this news and the hope it gives her for her family, was truly touching. But I still feel as though it was sprung upon the story in a way that seemed contrived. Why didn’t Sonny call her mom? He didn’t seem to have any developmental issues. I can see how Rowan would have assumed Sonny was a younger brother, but I find it unbelievable that he wouldn’t have said mommy in all that time.