Reviewed by Christine
AUTHOR: Nicola Haken
NARRATOR: Joel Leslie
LENGTH: 10 hrs. 36 mins.
RELEASE DATE: June 19, 2017
When Theodore Davenport decides to switch his mundane job for a career, he walks into Holden House Publishing with enthusiasm and determination to succeed. As he settles into his new role, makes new friends, and dreams of making it to the top, everything is going to plan. Until he meets James Holden, CEO of Holden House. James Holden hasn’t been able to stop thinking about his encounter with the timid man he met in a club bathroom last week, and when he discovers the one haunting his dreams is an employee, he can’t seem to stop himself from pursuing him. Just a little fun – that’s what James tells himself. He can’t afford to care for someone who can never reciprocate, not once they find out who he really is. James believes nobody deserves the burden of being attached to him. He’s a complicated man. Damaged. Difficult. Demanding. Broken. Is Theodore strong enough to confront James’ demons? More importantly, is James?
Please note: This book contains scenes of self-harm, mental illness, and suicidal ideation which may be uncomfortable for some listeners.
A personal note: I have been sitting on this review for quite a while. I finished this book the same day the news broke about the lead singer of Linkin Park taking his life back in July. Mental illness is not always easy to detect. With the stigma that has been attached to it, it is not difficult to understand why someone who suffers from it wishes to deal with it alone, keeping those demons and darkness a secret from the world, including those closest to them. As someone who deals with functional depression, I know first-hand how the façade hides a very real and often debilitating struggle. Though James is a fictional character, the cloying blackness he experiences in Broken is all too familiar to many of us. I commend Ms. Haken for taking on such a difficult subject and for shedding light on it with such grace.
Ms. Haken has achieved something rather difficult by carefully and thoughtfully telling a tale of a man’s struggle with mental illness without bogging the story down with relentless darkness and despair. Those dark moments crop up as mental illness does, amidst the seemingly fine process of daily life, leaping out of the shadows to permeate the light and positivity of the person who suffers from its tenacious hold on their life.
The portrayal of James’s battle with his demons is heartbreakingly raw and vivid. The reality of his insistent self-loathing and his determination to deal with it on his own feels authentic and true to his character. His feelings of worthlessness and his lack of hope are clear and convincing as he battles to overcome his deep-seated emotions while attempting to bring something positive to a budding romantic relationship. The connection he has with Theo is strong and persuasive, keeping him in a relentless pursuit of his new assistant while the destructive negativity of his mind lurks quietly in the background. The reader knows something is going to give: it’s just a matter of when and how intense the episode is going to be.
Theo’s character is genuine and honest. His conviction to find a job on his own that provides him with a sound future is admirable, and his foibles and flaws make him human and likable. His initial reaction to James is hot and fast as their anonymous encounter in a bathroom has an incredibly strong impact on both of them. Once he discovers James’s identity, his reticence and eventual acquiescence to continue a relationship with his boss makes him even more appealing as a character. As he learns more about James and bears witness to his mental illness, the helplessness, guilt, and lack of understanding he experiences are all frank, pure reactions to a foreign situation. His determination, however, not to let James fall into the void is courageous and inspiring. These two characters work so well together as they navigate the difficulties of a relationship challenged by mental illness.
I think the most impactful part of this story is the epilogue. It’s truthful and candid, accurately portraying a life affected by mental illness and emphasizing the importance of embracing each day. It is hopeful and sheds light on the power of love, support, and communication when the demons come to call.
This is my first experience with this author, and I can assure you it won’t be my last. Ms. Haken has crafted an extremely beautiful narrative, perfectly balanced with dramatic flair, emotional intensity, and humor. Additionally, Joel Leslie’s performance is superb as he brings the narrative, James, and Theo to life. I adore the way he animates these characters and achieves a level of emotion in his story telling that engages the listener and takes them along the characters’ journey. I highly recommend this audio version of Broken and look forward to experiencing more works by both Ms. Haken and Mr. Leslie.