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The Break Novel by Katherena Vermette

Many bad things happen around; some are noticed and fairly discussed, while others remain neglected. In 2016, Katherena Vermette wrote The Break to show how dangerous and traumatic the human experience could be in a seemingly ideal community. One of its most outstanding issues is that there are no properly identified main characters, and each chapter gives voices to different people. Instead of losing the author’s message, The Break describes how Aboriginal people’s challenges have developed over the years. Brutal social diversity is a central theme in Vermette’s book, and the stories of Emily, Phoenix, and Tommy explain the roots of hardships in victims, villains, and law enforcement representatives.

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Most literary works are based on the same plot about contradictions between a protagonist and an antagonist. Vermette wants to break the rules of storytelling and add a number of experiences, questions, and concerns. The life of a 13-year-old Metis girl, Emily, does not differ from other teenagers. She falls in love, dreams about her first true kiss, and faces judgment because of her skin color and gender. Vermette describes her as “clueless… so pretty and so oblivious,” underlying her disparity in society (part 6). Being in the wrong place at the wrong time, Emily was violently assaulted and raped, provoking multiple physical and emotional traumas. From that moment, there is a kind of “shell, something protective and translucent over all of her, something that might break at any moment” (Vermette part 29). Emily is a victim whose accident makes everyone re-evaluate their priorities and life principles.

Phoenix is an evident villain in the novel whose behavior, manners, and attitudes toward life cause disgust from the very first lines. As soon as she gets to her uncle’s house, that “smells like smokes, dope, and old food” with “the disgusting kitchen,” she is glad to return there (Vermette part 3). Her decision to go to the party and hurt Emily was spontaneous, but it can be explained by the absence of good people in her life. Her mother does not care for her, and she knows nothing about her birth father. No familial support, friends, and beloved people make her abandon her child and walk “like nothing can get to her” (Vermette, part 27). Her life and soul are empty because she does not have an opportunity to fill them with positive things.

If Emily’s and Phoenix’s stories are more or less clear, Tommy serves as an example of how ambiguity and the balance between the two worlds challenge Indigenous people. Being a song of a Caucasian father and an Aboriginal mother explains his unstable position and the intention to avoid biases and diversity. Officer Tommy Scott cannot believe that one girl rapes another girl as it is not normal for the community that he tries to protect. Although he is a strong man with some positive qualities, he “wants the simplicity of finality” without guessing that “it’s never like it is in the movies” (Vermette, part 26). Instead of solving the case on his own, he addresses his mother for advice and learns that “rape is about power,” not gender-based but human-based (Vermette part 25). His role in the novel is important to underline the theme of impartiality in a society damaged by racial and cultural biases.

The Break is not just the story of one girl or one family. This novel is a successful attempt to recognize the power of community in today’s world and the necessity to make the right decisions. Sometimes, it seems easier not to notice problems and avoid helping people. However, when the time to pay for mistakes comes, people expect forgiveness and understanding. Vermette raises many provocative questions about respect, support, and understanding, but she does not give clear answers, allowing the reader to make personal conclusions and decide how to behave.

Work Cited

Vermette, Katherena. The Break. House of Anansi Press, 2016.

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