“Broken Pencils” by J.R. Rice

“Broken Pencils” by J.R. Rice 672 1024 Reader Views Kids

Broken Pencils

J.R. Rice
Tea, But with Coffee Media (2024)
ISBN: 978-1957893563
Reviewed by Richard Bist for Reader Views (06/2024)

Jonah Tarver has issues. He’s about to turn eighteen, graduate high school, and he’s preparing for prom night. For many teens that would be something to look forward to, but Jonah isn’t like everyone else. In addition to being bipolar, he’s still processing the death of his best friend four years prior, trying to figure out if he’s actually in love with his girlfriend, and desperate to find meaning in his life. He’s also stopped taking his medication.

J.R. Rice’s “Broken Pencils” follows Jonah over the course of prom night, and shows the depths of his pain and inner turmoil. This story is brutally honest in its portrayal of mental health issues, and the confusion and angst of dealing with unresolved issues from the past and an uncertain future. Rice does an amazing job of capturing Jonah’s thoughts and feelings in a palatable way. The emotion on the pages is visceral and raw, and in many scenes, it can be difficult to read because it’s so real.

The characters in this story are brilliantly illustrated. It’s a fine balancing act to create characters who are real but don’t cross the line into stereotypes. Here, they are people you might run into on any city street. The dialogue is also fantastic. It’s how people actually speak, with all the cadences, slang, and candid topics you would expect from a group of high schoolers. There’s no pulling punches on these pages. Rice knows his characters and their stories, and he writes with confidence and no censorship.

While this book is categorized as Young Adult, some readers could be put off by the brutal honesty of Rice’s story. But don’t take that as a reason to pass on this book. In fact, I think that’s one of the main selling points. It’s a story of hard truths, of what it’s like to deal with mental issues, and I think it’s insightful and worthy of an attentive read.

I highly recommend “Broken Pencils,” and not just for a young adult audience. I think that everyone who reads this book will put it down with a heavy heart and a deeper understanding of what many people go through when grappling with bipolar disorder. J.R. Rice is a fantastic writer and I’m hoping to read more of his work.

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