Split by Swati Avasthi
Published by Knopf Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Random House
High school student Jace Witherspoon has just been kicked out of his home in Chicago by his abusive father. Scared and lonely, he goes to Albuquerque to stay with his brother Christian whom he hasn’t seen in six years. Although Christian has been hiding from their father all that time, he reluctantly lets Jace in and they attempt to rebuild their relationship. Their mother, also a victim of their father’s abuse, has promised to run away herself and join them for Thanksgiving, and while Jace believes that she will do this, Christian is a little more skeptical. While the two brothers work on becoming a family again, Jace has to work through his own issues – turns out he learned well from his father, and lashed out at his own girlfriend before coming to New Mexico.
Split is an emotionally charged novel, almost difficult to read in the way that most important novels are. The situation Jace escaped from with his father is terrifying but unfortunately to many families it is reality, and I felt that Avasthi depicted life in an abusive household with brilliant honesty. Jace and Christian both have bruised and battered souls, as a result of their father’s treatment of them over the years, and they both have to work though a lot of emotional pain and issues in order to become a family again. The fact that they watched their mother be beaten all those years adds more pain too – they both have feelings of guilt and shame at the fact that they could not protect her, and also feelings of anger towards her for never leaving their father. Avasthi did an excellent job illustrating the complex dynamics of an abusive home with this novel.
What makes Split so interesting is the dynamics of the bothers attempting to rebuild their bond. Their personalities are so opposite – Christian is standoffish and quiet, slow to emotions and doesn’t let anyone into the emotional walls he uses to protect himself, while Jace is emotional, more open with his feelings (good and bad), and outwardly craving a relationship with his brother. Plus, Christian is harboring feelings of guilt for leaving Jace behind for the last six years while Jace (rightfully so) feels that Christian abandoned him to take on all their father’s blows. The fact that Jace is hiding the fact that he hit his own girlfriend makes their relationship really strained, as the reader knows there’s this big secret but Christian does not. When it finally comes out, things get… interesting.
I read Split as an audiobook, and it was really fantastic. The narrator, Joshua Swanson, was very effective at channeling the emotional nature of Jace’s character. He communicated the story so well, I was certainly hooked! I would definitely recommend the audio version of Split.
While Split isn’t the easiest novel to read in terms of the subject matter, it is a quick read and one that you won’t soon forget. The characters are compelling, the story is one that needs to be told, and Avasthi’s writing brings everything together perfectly. If you can handle a story about child/spousal abuse, Split is an absolute must.