Book Review || The Broken Bridge by Philip Pullman

Phillip Pullman is the master of coming of age novels. In The Broken Bridge, we meet Ginny, the only black girl in a Welsh town, who has been treasuring her roots and becoming an amazing artist just like her mother. But her father is hiding a secret from her, and she comes to find that everything she knows about herself might be a lie.

This young adult novel is filled with the usual teenage concerns of falling in love, discovering who your friends are, and coming to accept yourself. But it has more going for it than simply that.

We see the world through Ginny's eyes - literally, the eyes of an artist. She sees everything as though she's preparing to paint it, and Pullman focuses a lot on describing the world as an artist would see it: in terms of different colours and hues, composition, and highlights and shadows. This contributes to making Ginny a believable artist instead of simply taking her word for it and was possibly my favourite part of the novel - there is true passion for her craft in Ginny's narrative.

The fact that she is an artist is a big part of her identity but she is forced to question it when her father's lies catch up with him and she wonders if anything he told her was true at all. Her art was what defined her, set her apart in a positive way, in a world where she was already sort of an outcast as one of only two black people in the town, and the daughter of a white man and black woman. When mysteries are laid at her feet about the town, her father, and her mother, she questions who she really is and realises that the idealist side of her - the artist - was selfishly looking at things in a certain way. There's a moment where she consoles a crying woman and actually moves herself around so that the artistic composition would be better.

In a way, this selfishness represents that of every teenager so caught up in their new emotions and urges, worries and needs that they forget there are other people in the world suffering in different ways. When Ginny meets her brother, he is also selfishly experiencing the world. However, the two of them begin to have a proper relationship when they open up to one another, in a way that many adults cannot do.

Another theme to consider in the scope of the novel is whether there is a perfect family at all. Ginny and her father are all alone until Robert comes along. Robert and his mother were all alone until tragedy struck. Andy has been exiled from his family, as has her best friend Rhiannon's older sister, who in turn is stuck in a loveless, abusive marriage. We are faced with the truth that there is no such thing as a perfect family, but the members within it can only do their best.

In many ways, this novel - written in 1990 - was written before its time. Touching on issues of broken families as it does, you can also throw in questions about homosexuality, racism, gangsterism, suspicion, selfishness, arrogance, roots and origins, and even a little bit of spirituality as well.

The novels' story of the broken bridge and its metaphorical meaning become clear at the end: no bridges are mended from only one side.


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