Once in a while, I’ll browse Quill and Quire for Canadian literature because I love books set in Toronto. LOVE. And I also want to support local authors. All the broken things by Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer was one of the books they reviewed at the time so I picked it up.
Since moving up to North York and having the pleasure of commuting daily (sarcasm), I switched over from reading off my iPhone and started reading off a tablet. I got this book prior to that change so I had this on and off relationship with that book seeing as I no longer read off my iPhone. It was my back up book when my Galaxy had no juice or if I forgot it at home.
With no motivation to read any of the books on my Moonreader shelf, I decided to finally continue reading All the broken things.
In sum, it’s a coming of age story set in Toronto about a Vietnamese immigrant boy named Bo who ends up training a bear named Bear and working at the CNE back in the 80. This covered topics such as racism, bullying, herbicidal warfare on Vietnam, travelling by boat (read: illegal), mutations, freaks in the old sense of the word, bear wrestling and carnival folk.
When reading books by Canadian authors, there’s a certain atmosphere to their writing. From Atwood to De Sa, I feel that there is a mystical veil surrounding the events in the book. Perhaps because most of the books I’ve read are set before I was born but in a city I currently live. It’s like looking at images off Vintage Toronto. [Link here] Kuitenbrouwer’s All the broken things definitely has that quality to it and I can’t help but picture all these places in the 80s. I feel a certain detachment to these novels that cannot bring me to give them a very high rating but I certainly do not hate them.
With this novel, we are introduced to Bo. He’s picked on at school for being Vietnamese and is beaten up by his bully almost everyday. He can stand up for himself but somehow doesn’t. This sparked the interest of a man who has seen people bet on these ‘fights’ who noticed that Bo was holding back and saw his potential. First of all, I found that very creepy a man would be watching children fights. In 2014, if you see a man lurking in a school that does not resemble a parent, you know someone is calling the police. Since this is the 80s, I’ll let it go.
Bo is then taken to see the carnie folk and was basically invited to be part of them to fight bears. I have no knowledge of bear wrestling but I can’t imagine it to be at all safe (which you discover towards the end of the book). The story unfolds as we see his fight life intertwining with his family life which he’s none too fond of considering his sister was deformed thanks to Agent Orange. He’s given his own bear and is forced to grow up too quickly.
I definitely liked all the Canadian elements in the book. Winter, CNE, Toronto, mentioning all the neighborhoods on the west side, the lake, etc.
At the same time, it was painful to read Bo’s experience with racism at school. Yes, he was liked by some and had friends but it was never a moment of Bo being better than people. It was about what Bo can do for them and how he worked for them. Or rather, what benefit Bo provided them. While there are still instances of racism now, it was a lot more prevalent before the 90s and even then, I got the occasional chink or flip or oriental.
All in all, it was an interesting read. It took me almost a year to finish (on and off) and I don’t remember what sort of mood I was in when I got this but if you were to ask me now, I probably wouldn’t be quick to say yes. I do not regret reading it but it did not captivate me as I hoped it would. 2.5 stars out of 5. It was more than OK but I didn’t really like it.