By Swati Avasthi
Young Adult Fiction
When Jace Witherspoon is kicked out of the house by his abusive father, he hits the road and drives until he finds himself on the doorstep of his brother Christian’s apartment. Jace hasn’t seen or heard from Christian in five years, since Christian made his own escape from their messed-up family. Christian isn’t exactly pleased to find his brother outside his door. And Jace has a new secret in addition to all the ones that he and Christian share.
It would be very easy to dismiss Split as Yet Another Problem Novel, but it’s actually far too well-crafted to fit neatly into that stereotype. Yes, Split does openly tackle the issues of domestic violence and child abuse, but it doesn’t feel like an after school special. The characterization is too vivid and intelligent for that. This is definitely the story of Jace and Christian as people as much as it is the story of a social problem.
Jace eventually persuades Christian to let him stay, and he then begins the uneasy process of fitting into his brother’s new life. The interactions between the two brothers are always fraught. Jace resents being left behind; Christian isn’t happy about being found; both are aware of how the other feels. They are often angry, often broken, sometimes afraid. At the end of the book, my feelings toward the characters, especially Jace, were extremely ambivalent. I think this is one of Avasthi’s big achievements here; a simpler conclusion would have been cheating.
The supporting cast is also strong, especially Dakota, a girl Jace meets in a bookstore. Their first meeting is actually one of my favorite scenes in the novel: it does an excellent job of conveying Jace’s particular brand of fucked-up charm and gives Dakota a personality besides being “the girl.”
In conclusion, Split is a good example of a novel that isn’t groundbreaking in subject matter or treatment but is noteworthy for its solid execution. I think this would be an obvious addition to a lot of libraries’ teen fiction collections. Jace’s first-person narration sounds natural and authentic, and the intense family drama will hook even those readers who aren’t looking for a life lesson.