Breaking Beautiful Summary

Jennifer Shaw Wolf

Breaking Beautiful

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Breaking Beautiful Summary

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Breaking Beautiful (2012), a work of young adult fiction by Jennifer Shaw Wolf, concerns Allie and her best friend, Blake, who are suspected of the death of Allie’s former boyfriend, Trip, in a car accident. Having recently moved to the town, Allie was flattered to be asked out by one of the most popular boys. While Trip was well known and esteemed in the town for his athleticism, social popularity, and connection to a wealthy family, he had abused Allie, who now has no idea how to speak out without fear of retribution. At the same time, she remembers nothing about the fatal car accident. These conditions set up a perfect storm for a tense, lengthy debate in which the loudest and most powerful individuals, rather than the best informed, have the upper hand.

The novel begins by contextualizing Allie’s life after the accident. The event deeply destabilized her, putting an abrupt end to many assumptions she had had about her life. These include her boyfriend, her familial relationships, her social standing, and her sense of personal security. The whole town seems to be mourning Trip’s death, paying little attention to the state of the surviving member of the crash.

The book proceeds in a series of episodes that jump back and forth through time, coloring Allie’s past with Trip to show how it informs her present attitude toward the volatile public emotional aftermath that unfolds around her. She recalls the long, subtle process by which a narcissistic Trip isolated Allie from her family and friends in order to control the entirety of her social life. He physically assaults her on many occasions, but always, strategically, in places on her body that aren’t usually visible to other people. Afterward, he always seems to repent his actions, trying to neutralize the event by giving her gifts and letters. As Allie ruminates, she connects his violent narcissism to an extreme case of the larger social problem of male entitlement.

As Allie begins the long process of coming to terms with Trip’s patterns of abuse, his father grows suspicious in the present, imagining that Allie had some hand in the death as he tries to reclaim some illusory sense of control over his son’s legacy. Allie’s lack of memory is no match for a wealthy, older white male, a well-integrated member of the town; much of the public begins to suspect that Trip’s father is right. The town searches for evidence that would corroborate his groundless opinion, settling on Allie’s relationship with Blake as a signal that Allie wanted to get rid of Trip all along.

Around the same time, the police question her, relating that they discovered a t-shirt under a log in the woods that had her blood on it. Returning to the woods, Allie finds the shoes she was wearing the night of the accident. She sees James (Trip’s friend) and has a feeling he has been stalking her.

Near the novel’s end, Allie begins to remember hazy details about the night of the accident. Her only staunch supporters as she tries to reclaim her own narrative are Blake and her twin brother, Andrew, who suffers from cerebral palsy. Between the time she met Trip to the present day, her parents remain oblivious to her very obvious signs of physical and emotional abuse.

Eventually, Allie has a revelation about the night of the accident. Blake had been abusing her during the drive home, causing their car to run off course. He nearly killed Allie before Andrew stepped in, throwing Trip off a nearby cliff, causing his death. Now, remembering that Trip was directly culpable for his fate, Allie is able to discard some of her shame. She gets Trip’s ex-girlfriend, Hannah, to admit that Trip had abused her in a similar way. Once this silence is broken, the public attitude towards Allie and the accident changes drastically. She is moved by the knowledge that Andrew loved her enough to kill someone who endangered her.

At the novel’s end, Allie’s state of dysphoria subsides, and the case against her is dropped. She looks forward to finding healthier relationships in the future through her new understanding of what an abusive relationship is like. The novel closes after she has returned to school, as her parents convince her to leave the house and socialize with her friends. Having found a new voice, Wolf’s protagonist is ultimately able to grapple with the age-old pattern of victim blaming.