In future America, now divided into Appalachia and Outside, bounty hunters viciously pursue those who break the rules of Appalachia or try to reach the guarded borders of Outside. In this treacherous, fundamentalist society --- in some ways similar to FAHRENHEIT 451 --- those caught learning to read or possessing books, particularly Bibles, are sentenced to years in prison-type factories, regardless of age. A tracking chip embedded in each prisoner makes escape nearly impossible. But, as in all things, there are those who find a way.
Young Caitlyn has been raised in Appalachia, but not because her scientist father agrees with the religion and politics of that nation. His motives for keeping her away from Outside are unveiled as the novel progresses. Due to mysterious circumstances, the time has come for Caitlyn to leave Appalachia with, she assumes, her Papa. The book begins with the first part of a letter written by Caitlyn's Papa, the only one who ever loved her, the only one who never saw her as a freak.
I do not regret the price I paid for my love for you. But I do regret what it has cost you, all your life. And I have never stopped regretting all that I've kept hidden from you. My confession begins with how I deceived you the day after your sixth birthday. You may still believe that we went to the surgeon to help the dove, the one you named Angel.
It was a lie. If only that were the worst of my sins…
Caitlyn's long, thin arms, covered with coarse hair, are hidden by the cloak that covers the hump between her shoulder blades. But none of that tears at her heart like the words in the letter she holds in her claw-like fingers, words that mean her Papa betrayed her and has left her to escape to Outside on her own. But escape from whom? And why? With bloodhounds close on her trail, she has little time to ponder the answers.
As Caitlyn follows the directives in the letter and travels through rugged terrain, she encounters another fugitive --- a boy so determined to escape the horrific factory imprisonment that he cut the computer chip out of his own body. Together they outwit their pursuers, but only for a while. Eventually Caitlyn is caught by an infamous bounty hunter named Mason, who is more than happy to use any means of torture on his captives. He carries with him a specially-made silver canister to accomplish a goal for which he will be well paid and revels in the thought of what he must do to Caitlyn in order to fill that canister.
BROKEN ANGEL is one of those "pay attention" books. The reader must keep track of several names and places, and remembering who the good and bad guys are requires some focus, especially since people and things are not always who or what they seem. Brouwer's two nations are an interesting contrast of religion and politics. In Appalachia, life is simple, harmonious and God-centered…at first glance. In truth, everyone is required to attend church and hear twisted versions of scripture, and all must take communion (do those innocent-looking wafers contain a little something extra?). In Outside, people are free to read, worship and express ideas, but it has its failings as well. Science has reached unprecedented levels, including genetically designed babies and experiments with things better left alone.
I have to warn the squeamish among you that this is not a book for the faint of heart. It is immensely creative and certainly a page-turner, but the ruthless, sadistic antagonist fills the reader's mind with more imagery than some may want. That said, Brouwer has the uncanny ability to create a believable, fictional society and draw his audience into the very heart of it, as they wonder if this really could happen and if we are heading in that direction.
Reviewed by Susan Miura on May 20, 2008