One of my main arguments for YA books is that it’s much more innovative and genre-busting than what a lot of literary critics would deem it to be. For example, consider the wide appeal of comics/graphic novels/manga with YA readers and teens; it’s not a surprise that there are a lot of authors incorporating artwork into their books as part of the story-telling (see for instance, Scott Westerfeld’s Leviathan trilogy.) However, the problem comes when the artwork doesn’t hold up to the work of the story-telling and can feel more like a popularity grab instead of being part of the story.It’s a glaring problem in Broken—the artwork manages to highlight how weak the story is in general and it comes off as gimmicky. Instead of naturally flowing into the story and highlighting minor details to add to the broken innerscape of Zara’s mind, we get a handful of panels randomly interspersed throughout the text that don’t add much to the story. There’s very few panels that let the moment speak for itself, and it feels more like padding at times. The art itself isn’t horrible (it’s passable with the idea that Zara is ‘drawing’ the art), but it’s very pedestrian and standard. Nothing about the artwork speaks for itself or can stand alone from the story. (It should also be mentioned that the in-universe comic book hero Hoodman and Dark Eagle read like what people think high concept comic books are like. The concept sounds interesting sure, but Pulford and Gomes fail at pulling off the effectiveness of the artwork.) The art wouldn’t have been as much of an issue with me if it also wasn’t for the fact that the story here is incredibly weak. Pulford takes two separate events in Zara’s life—her abduction and captivity by a stranger when she was seven and her brother Jem’s death and her being in a coma as the main story—and tries to force them together without drawing a strong enough connection between the two plotlines. There’s several issues surrounding the larger problem. The timeline and plot moves around randomly, without any clear indication of how Zara’s remembering things. More time is spent on Zara’s friends and why Jem loves a particular comic instead of developing the relationship between him and Zara. Whenever Zara talks about being abducted, so much of what happened is obscured to the point that the eventual reveal of what she confessed to Jem is not only a letdown, but doesn’t make any sense! Her captor wanted to be a “mommy?” Great. What does that have to do with anything? It’s repeatedly stated that Zara needs to face the truth, but this isn’t that big of a reveal. The abduction plotline makes absolutely no sense. I understand that Zara has tried to move on from it and that she’s outwardly presenting being okay nowadays, but…There’s no underlying sense that Zara’s broken in the first place. Is her inner journey about accepting the fact that Jem’s gone and she doesn’t have anyone she could trust that implicitly? But even then there’s no real understanding on Zara’s part that Jem’s gone. And I get that Zara needs to talk about what happened to other people, but again, there’s no real pay-off. We don’t even find out who her captor was! The last page of the book is just telling us that he’s been captured, but no revelation of who it is. We don’t even know if Zara’s seen the guy in years, it’s just “Nope, we need to kinda resolve this!” If there had been stronger build-up with the abduction and more of an impact—maybe Zara being more distressed and wild after the report of a similar abduction—that would have made more sense to me. It’s also very disconcerting that her captor doesn’t read as a monster who sexually abused Zara, at least to me. I’m not ignoring that he’s very sick and disturbed, but the implication that her captor has mental illness is somewhat insulting. (Plus the implication that he’s genderqueer …*sigh*)The characters are…bland. They’re not terrible, and I definitely was expecting worse from this. But there’s nothing that says to me that Zara’s an engaging heroine who’s going to confront her dark past with the power of ARTWORK! She reads like a teenager who says she likes art. Except there’s nothing there. There’s nothing endearing Zara to the reader. As I mentioned above, her relationship with Jem doesn’t even make that huge of an impact on the story. There’s no real weight to Jem’s death either—it feels emotionally convenient to force the plot in motion. Jem never feels like a character in his own right, therefore losing half of the book’s weight and meaning. But even outside of Zara and Jem, none of the other characters ever get fleshed out beyond what Zara thinks of them. Trace is the most rounded character of the supporting cast, but even then I don’t think her character is fully fleshed and realized. A lot of characterization is given to us via Zara infodumping and so none of them ever get a chance to grow in the reader’s head.I can see a through line with what Pulford wanted to do with this. But the catalyst for Zara’s journey and the truth she has to face doesn’t fit together and the lack of payoff is not only frustrating, but somewhat insulting and narrow-minded. The characterization doesn’t help with an already-crippled story and what may have worked as a strong character study ultimately reaches short of its goal. While the artwork could have given Broken a leg up, it’s frankly pedestrian and doesn’t add anything to the story. It’s not a horrible story, but extremely lacking. Honestly, I would say to skip this, because while there’s nothing to outright condemn the book, there’s also nothing for me to recommend reading any part of it.