Title: Broken Hearts, Fences, and Other Things to Mend
Author: Katie Finn
Release Date: 05/13/14
Genre: Young Adult Contemporary
Rating: 2 out of 5 stars
First, let’s talk about why I read Broken Hearts, Fences, and Other Things to Mend a few months before its pub date. This book takes place in “the Hamptons,” an area I know well, I grew up there and I’m back living there before I start grad school. I had such an amazing experience reading Rules of Summer, another YA book that takes place in “the Hamptons,” I hoped I could read this one and do some kind of teaser post with a tour of Hamptons’ spots from the book. Pretty much from the moment I started reading I realized that was not going to be the case. I tried to keep my negative feelings about this to a minimum because I realize that anyone not from here will be happily oblivious to these things, but this book provides a terribly inaccurate description of “the Hamptons.” (I was originally going to type all my points about that here, but it got kind of long so I’ve moved it to the end of the review so it’s easier to skip over my rambling.)
When the book first started I actually had really high hopes for it. Gemma, the main character, had a great voice, I liked the writing, and I was frequently laughing out loud. Gemma gets dumped by her do-gooder boyfriend (in a Target, it was really funny) and, because she was supposed to build houses in Central America with him during the summer, she now has to find alternate plans. Enter “the Hamptons,” where her dad, who normally lives in Los Angeles, will be spending the summer working on a screenplay with his producer. Gemma spent the summer there once before, but is hesitant to go back because of something terrible that happened there with someone she used to be friends with.
This whole storyline was my first inkling that I might not be blown away by this story. For those who doesn’t know Katie Finn is a pen name for Morgan Matson, author of Second Chance Summer. In that book a girl returns to somewhere she used to spend her summer vacation and is nervous about seeing former friends she feels she wronged. If this storyline came up in any other author’s book I probably never would have thought twice about it being similar to Second Chance Summer, it’s not like it’s a totally unique thing, but in books by the same author? It seems strange to me.
Sadly, my positive feelings towards Gemma quickly dissolved when I learned about the terrible thing that ruined her friendship with Hallie, her former friend. (I’m not going to spoil it, but I’m going to give some background.) The summer that Gemma was 11-years-old she also went to the Hamptons with her dad during her parents’ initial separation. Gemma is positive her parents will get back together so she doesn’t think anything of it when her dad starts spending time with a woman, she’s actually happy because the woman has a daughter, Hallie, who’s Gemma’s age. Gemma eventually finds out that her dad is dating this woman and she becomes determined to break them up and she decides the best way to do that is to make her friend Hallie’s life a living hell so that Hallie makes her mom leave early. Maybe I’m taking this too seriously, but oh my god I was horrified by this. Like mouth hanging open, horrified. I guess because Gemma regrets what she did that means she’s not a sociopath, but really, the things she did and the deliberate, premeditated manner in which she did them, were insane and just beyond anything I would imagine an 11-year-old, who isn’t going to grow up to be the Unabomber, doing.
On the train to “the Hamptons” Gemma meets this cute boy, Josh, and when they get off the train she discovers that Josh is Hallie’s brother. Even worse Hallie is at the train station to pick Josh up. Thinking on her feet (like the little sociopath she is) Gemma lies and says she’s Sophie Curtis (her best friend back in CT) and then decides this is actually a good thing because by lying to Hallie she can become her friend and be nice to her, thereby showing Hallie what a good person she is and making Hallie forgive her. Seriously? I get why someone who’s not fully matured might think this, but wow, and she continues to think it for the rest of the book. At one point she even says how she better tell Hallie the truth soon because otherwise it might turn into her lying (I’m paraphrasing). Turn into lying? I’m pretty sure it was lying from the moment she gave someone else’s name.
The second worst part about this book (first: what a sociopath Gemma is) is how much I had to suspend disbelief. First, that Gemma would meet Josh on the train (the imaginary train mind you, see my Hamptons ranting below). Second, that she could really carry off this whole “Sophie” thing (she’s not even a good liar, for someone who created such an elaborate plan at 11-years-old, she’s constantly almost slipping up and hasn’t really seemed to put any forethought into this plan (like change your friend’s name in your phone to something else so it doesn’t look like you’re always calling or texting yourself!)). Third, I wish I had counted the number of times people’s cell phones went off and interrupted an important moment; I would guess the number is somewhere between 30 and 50 in a 350ish page book, it was crazy. Fourth, where was Hallie and Josh’s mother? They build this enormous house in “the Hamptons” and then she’s never there? Although their mother is maybe the only reason I would read the sequel to this, I think she’s the author of the vampire erotica book that’s constantly referred to throughout the story and I’m curious to know if I’m right.
If I thought it couldn’t get any worse than all of that, somehow the end managed to do it. I had suspected part of what came out at the end, but definitely not all of it. Suddenly crazypants Gemma is turned into the victim and there’s this Mean Girls/horror film moment (I saw someone on Goodreads refer to it as Cruel Intentions-like) that left me shaking my head. Seriously, these people deserve each other.
Bottom Line: I can say, with almost 100% certainty, that is has to be one of the strangest books I’ve ever read. I feel like this is one of the most bizarre reviews I’ve ever written, but I just didn’t know what to say, the whole thing was dumbfounding. To recap: writing good and it had its funny moments (throughout, not just at the beginning), but the main character is a future serial killer and I had to suspend disbelief a lot.
I received an electronic review copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley (thanks?). All opinions are my own.
Here are my thoughts on how the Hamptons are portrayed:
1. Gemma gets on a train in Connecticut and magically arrives in the Hamptons. What type of train is this? Why didn’t I know about this train when I was in college in Massachusetts? Gemma is from Putnam, Connecticut, which is in the northwest part of the state. She could, in theory, get on an Amtrak train, take that to Penn Station in NYC, and then transfer to the Long Island Rail Road (LIRR), but that’s not what happened here. Also, after reading more, Finn claims that Putnam is on the coast by the Long Island Sound. If you’re going to make up a town wouldn’t you want to pick a name that wasn’t already a town? If she did live in a coastal town she could still take Amtrak, but it would be more likely that she would take MetroNorth to Grand Central and then need to get to Penn Station to get on the LIRR.
2. I’m still on the train stuff, Gemma talks about how a family with lots of beach stuff gets on at the stop before the Hamptons stop. That is not how the LIRR to the Hamptons works. This is how it works: you get on a train in Penn Station, you get off that train to change at Jamaica (a train station in Queens) to get on a double-decker diesel train (only diesel trains run past about the middle of Long Island), in the process of switching trains, during the summer, you fight very large crowds of people to get a seat and not have to stand on the two (to the farthest west Hampton) to three hour (all the way to Montauk). No one gets on the train after Jamaica (ok, a small handful of people do, but not summer people).
3. (Yep, still trains), Gemma talks about how the train she took to the Hamptons has three seats across, nope, those don’t exist, seats are in pairs and the overhead racks are about six inches tall (seriously, it’s the worst design in train history).
4. Gemma is staying in a made up area (I Googled it just in case it was some super rich people area I’d never heard of, it doesn’t exist) and Finn builds a whole town around the area. The towns in the Hamptons are so interesting and special, why not use what already exists? Also, the movie producer, her dad’s boss, whose house she is staying in, refers to the area as “the next Montauk,” what does that mean? Montauk is nice, absolutely, but it’s not really hip or cool. It doesn’t have fancy bars or restaurants or shopping, I wouldn’t say it’s the blue collar town of the Hamptons, because it’s not, but it’s not fancy or the place to be seen.
5. Hallie and Josh’s mother has just built an enormous house on the water front in the Hamptons. That would never happen that quickly or maybe at all. The house is new, so let’s so it’s been built recently, at most there was six years to build it, between the summer Gemma was 11 and the summer she’s 17. Waterfront property in the Hamptons isn’t easy to come by, especially undeveloped land so she’d need to find that, but more importantly she’d need permits. Building permits, especially to build on the beach, are not easy to get here. There would be hearings and environmental impact studies and lots and lots of inspections, I would say, to build a house like the one that’s described in the book would take at least ten years, probably more, to get approved and then built. For example, my parents wanted to put a larger deck on their house, they submitted plans three times, using three different contractors and the plans were still never approved (and someone came a year later to make sure they hadn’t just built one anyway). Or the bakery down the street from my office, one of the biggest draws on Main Street, wanted to expand by adding onto the back of his building, which was just unused space behind Main Street. It took him 15 (FIFTEEN!) years to get his plans approved by the Village and Town.
So basically the town/area portrayed in the book could be any beach town anywhere and bears no resemblance to the Hamptons whatsoever. If you want to read a remarkably accurate portrayal of the Hamptons give Rules of Summer a read.
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