Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Broken For You by Stephanie Kallos

Broken for You by Stephanie Kallos
Grove Press, 2004
Fiction; 371 pgs

Completed: 09/10/2007
Rating: * (Outstanding)

First Sentence: While the woman sleeps and dreams of all that breaks, come into the house of many rooms.

Reason for Reading: This is my 9th selection for the TBR Challenge, my third selection for the Saturday Review of Books Challenge (whose review by 3M encouraged me to read this one sooner than I might have otherwise), and 1st for the Unread Authors Challenge.

From the Publisher: Broken for You is the story of two women in self-imposed exile whose lives are transformed when their paths intersect. Stephanie Kallos' debut novel is a work of infinite charm, wit and heart. It is also a glorious homage to the beauty of broken things. When we meet septuagenarian Margaret Hughes, she is living alone in a mansion in Seattle with only a massive collection of valuable antiques for company. Enter Wanda Schultz, a young woman with a broken heart who has come west to search for her wayward boyfriend. Both women are guarding dark secrets and have spent many years building up protective armor against the outside world. As their tentative friendship evolves, the armor begins to fall away and Margaret opens her house to the younger woman. This launches a series of unanticipated events, leading Margaret to discover a way to redeem her cursed past, and Wanda to learn the true purpose of her cross-country journey. Both funny and heartbreaking, Broken for You is a testament to the saving graces of surrogate families and shows how far the tiniest repair jobs can go in righting the world's wrongs.

Comments: Settling in at the repair shop to wait for my husband’s car, I admit to not being too enthused about my choice of book for the day. I really was more in the mood for something with a quicker pace, perhaps something more edgy and suspenseful. And yet, from the very beginning, I was drawn into the novel, Broken for You, transported to Seattle, Washington and the home of the elderly Margaret Hughes and swept up in an unconventional and moving story about friendship, redemption, and love.

Stephanie Kallos has written a well-crafted novel that weaves multiple tales, bringing them together in the end in such a way as to make the story even more meaningful. Her cast of colorful characters is at the heart of the story. They are an unlikely bunch brought together by circumstance and chance, each one playing an important role in the life of the other. Margaret is an eccentric elderly woman who has isolated herself for years as a penance for her past. Margaret’s boarder, Wanda comes across as strong and capable and yet her emotional ups and downs reveal a more fragile side to her. Wanda is chasing her past in hopes of finding something that was lost to her so long ago.

Not only are readers introduced to Wanda and Margaret, but also to several other unforgettable characters. There is M.J. Striker, whose own trials mirror both Wanda’s and Margaret’s but in different ways. He has given up so much of actual living as a sort of penance for past sins as he seeks for the one thing that meant most to him all those years before. Then there is Troy who had once traveled a similar path as Wanda, only to find that sometimes the answers you seek are not the answers you most need to find. I cannot leave out Gus, the hotel valet at the Hotel Orléans, where Margaret had honeymooned many years before. His spirit and zest for life was a much-needed addition in Margaret’s life. There is also Susan, the registered nurse, and Bruce the chef, both of whom are healing from broken hearts. And then there is Irma Kosminsky who is perhaps my most favorite character next to Margaret herself. Irma is so full of life and hope. Despite all she’d suffered in her past, losing both her first husband and child during the Holocaust, she had been able to find happiness in the present and encouraged those around her to live life rather than stew in it and let it pass by.

Stephanie Kallos’ takes a risk in varying her narrative as she does, following both Wanda and Margaret and later M.J. Striker, and occasionally switching to the second person slightly reminiscent of Michael Faber’s The Crimson Petal and the White only with a different twist. She also adds in dream sequences, which I think enhanced the story, adding more dimension to the characters and the overall effect of the novel.

Broken for You is a work of art all in it’s own. The characters, each of them broken in some way, are brought together the way the pieces used to create mosaic art might be joined together, the result being something of beauty and meaning.

Questions: I would be lying if I said I did not have questions upon finishing the book. There were a couple of characters that were not as fleshed out as the rest, whose story interested me and left me wondering in the end—not so much about their fate, but about the choices they had made. Despite this, I still came away from the book feeling awed and very much satisfied.

Favorite Parts: There are so many! This book was full of wonderful moments. I think perhaps my most favorite scene is near the beginning of the book when Margaret goes to the café and has a conversation with the waitress, otherwise known as the Nose Ring Girl. The reader in me let out a silent cry of glee (I didn’t want to scare the poor guy behind the counter at the shop!). I’m not sure I can adequately explain why—sometimes the “voice” the author uses to tell his or her story resonates inside my mind—it’s a perfect fit, so to speak. It was like this for me with Broken for You, nearly every step of the way.

Another of the scenes that stands out for me was when Margaret coaxes Wanda outside to smash Margaret’s wedding dinner set. It was an insane moment, but one that proved to be what the two women most needed to do in that moment. It was a new beginning for both women.

Near the end of the book, readers are drawn into a dream sequence as Margaret and her Thanksgiving guests go for a hot air balloon ride. The way the scene played out, the richness of the moment and the step back into reality once the dream was over was a very moving and poignant moment in the book.

For more information about the author, check out her website.


  1. I have been trying to decide whether I wanted to read this book. The title and front cover seems so depressing, and that's not what I need right now-- but your review makes it sound more uplifting than I thought I might be. Thanks! :)

  2. I think I picked this book up at a library sale awhile back! Looks like I'd better find it!

  3. You just had to give this book a five, didn't you! I have looked at it at the bookstore so many times, looks like it will have to come home with me soon. :)

  4. KW - It is a dark book in spots and is not an overall happy by any stretch, but I don't think it was overly depressing either. I thought there was a lot of hope in between the sad stories, which gave it a bit of a more uplifting feel to it.

    Stephanie - It was different, but very good.

    Kailana - I have a feeling most people will think I'm nuts for giving this one a 5. LOL

  5. Sounds like a great read, Wendy. Will look out for it. Thanks! :)

  6. I've had this on my TBR list for a while now. You make me think I need to move it up near the top of the list.

    Thanks for a great review

  7. I keep coming across this one in the bookstore and debating myself over whether to get it, but I think you've sold me. Thanks for a very informative review!

  8. Beautiful review of what sounds like a beautiful review. From what you said, it seems to have the hopeful, quiet sort of sadness I really love in books.

  9. Sounds like a wonderful story of friends becoming family, also the cast of characters sound quite fascinating! Allow me to say also, I love your review format.

    Thank you for another wonderful review, Wendy!

  10. I was struck, like you were, by how the author ties the idea of broken things all together. Broken glass can be transformed into something new and beautiful and broken hearts can too. I loved this book. Great review.

  11. This sounds fascinating! Thanks for a great review!

  12. Melody - I hope you will enjoy it if you do decide to read it.

    SuziQ - I do hope you will like it. I'll feel terrible if you all hate it. LOL

    Florinda - I do think it's worth a try. I read on her website that the book's been made into a play, which I thought was interesting. Given the author's theater background though, it isn't really a surprise, I suppose.

    Nymeth - Thank you! Yes, I think you described the feeling I had throughout the book very well. :-)

    Lotus - Thanks! I do hope you will give it a try. :-)

    Kookie - I had such a hard time putting that thought into words, but it's exactly as you put it. I am glad I am not the only one who loved this one.

    Andi - Thank you! I did find it fascinating. I definitely can see myself rereading this one one day. There's so much to the story and yet at times it seems so simple.

  13. So glad you loved this! Of course you know I really liked it as well. The characters were really well developed, weren't they?

  14. This sounds like a fascinating read! Off to add it to my ever-growing wish list...

  15. Sounds interesting I will look out for this one. The cover is beautiful as well.

  16. This books sounds very good. I will have to add it to my wishlist!

  17. 3M - Yes, the characters were well developed. I really enjoyed spending time with them. :-)

    Heather - I hope you enjoy it if you read it.

    Rhinoa - I really like the cover too--it fits well with the overall theme of the novel.

    Jennyellen - It's well worth reading!

  18. It's interesting to see that you were iffy about the book. When I saw the cover and title, I thought, "Hmmm, not sure that would be for me." And, then I got to the bit about sitting at the repair shop and sat up a little straighter. I won't write it off because of the cover and title, now. Funny how covers can have such a strong effect that they can make or break the decision to open a book and give it a chance, isn't it?

  19. Such a compelling review, Wendy. I want to drop everything I'm reading and all my challenges to fit this book in RIGHT NOW! The cover and title really don't call to me, but your review does.

    I love how that little kitty paw shows up as I drag my mouse to links on your blog. Very cute!

  20. Nancy - Yes, the back cover description didn't quite grab me in the moment, but once I started reading it was well worth it. I like it when that happens, especially if I have to be stuck waiting somewhere for a long while and it's the only book I've got handy. I guess I could have resorted to reading car part magazines if it was really bad.

    Booklogged - Aren't the kitty paws cute? I really like them too.

    I hope I don't get people too excited and then have them hate it if they try it on my say so. I really did enjoy the book, but it won't be for everyone.

  21. I'm doing a self-challenge to read a book set in each of the 50 states and this is one of the ones I found for Washington. It definitely sounds better than the other one.

  22. Which other book did you have in mind, Framed?

  23. I just recently found this title in a review in my local newspaper.
    I enjoyed your review and now look forward to reading the book.

  24. Diane - I hope you will enjoy it! As you can tell, I really enjoyed this one.


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