Tag Archives: All the Broken Things

Book Review: All the Broken Things by Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer


By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez / @ZaraAlexis

All the Broken Things


Category: Literary Fiction

Author: Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer

Format: Trade Paperback, 342 pages

Publisher: Random House of Canada

ISBN: 978-0-345-81352-7

Pub Date: January 14, 2014


Summary from Publisher:

September, 1983. Fourteen-year-old Bo, a boat person from Vietnam, lives in a small house in the Junction neighbourhood of Toronto with his mother, Thao, and his four-year-old sister, who was born severely disfigured from the effects of Agent Orange. Named Orange, she is the family secret; Thao keeps her hidden away, and when Bo’s not at school or getting into fights on the street, he cares for her.

One day a carnival worker and bear trainer, Gerry, sees Bo in a street fight, and recruits him for the bear wrestling circuit, eventually giving him his own cub to train. This opens up a new world for Bo–but then Gerry’s boss, Max, begins pursuing Thao with an eye on Orange for his travelling freak show. When Bo wakes up one night to find the house empty, he knows he and his cub, Bear, are truly alone. Together they set off on an extraordinary journey through the streets of Toronto and High Park. Awake at night, boy and bear form a unique and powerful bond. When Bo emerges from the park to search for his sister, he discovers a new way of seeing Orange, himself and the world around them.

 All the Broken Things is a spellbinding novel, at once melancholy and hopeful, about the peculiarities that divide us and bring us together, and the human capacity for love and acceptance.

– From Chapters-Indigo website

Book Review by Zara from The Bibliotaphe Closet

All the Broken Things by Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer is a devastatingly marvellous book, a story that focuses on the unfortunate sufferings of its main character, 14-year-old Bo, a young refugee from Vietnam who lives with his highly pessimistic mother, Rose, and his violent four-year-old sister who is severely disfigured from the affects of Agent Orange.

While Bo is burdened with school and taking care of his disabled sister, the responsibilities deferred to him by his incompetent and devastated mother, he is also haunted by the defiant memory of the untimely death of his father, and what it means to be a cultural outsider.

Though he does have some people rooting for him, his happiness, and success, in the form of his teacher, Miss Lily, and mature classmate and friend, Emily, the only way he can cope with his turbulent anger and frustration is by fighting with a schoolyard bully named Ernie.

An outlet for his pent-up rage, he fights Ernie on a daily basis until he is discovered and recruited by a carnival worker and bear trainer, Gerry, who not only befriends him, but eventually gives him his own bear cub to raise, who he names, for lack of a better word, Bear.

While he must fend off the interest of carnival owner, Max, from discovering the uniqueness of his sister, Orange, and deter and manage the depression of his mother, Rose, who is unable to hold a job, or look at, or look after the daughter who incites in her the pain of guilt and memory, Bo, takes solace from secretly training and raising Bear in the confines of his small backyard until they both become nomads in the wilderness of High Park.

The magnificent power of the book is in its quality in both plot and characterization. The plot moves readily from scene to scene, revealing the depth of its characters:

Thao Rose suffers a private anguish and shame at birthing a disfigured child, feels helpless and incompetent to care for her, and feels worthless as a refugee who tries to escape the haunt of dark and old memories—the desperate compulsion to flee her home country because of her visions of war and the imposed victimization to the deadly war toxin, Agent Orange.

Orange Blossom suffers a personal and private imprisonment both by the restriction of her physical body, her lack of verbal language, and the constraints imposed on her by her disgusted and ashamed mother who wishes to keep her hidden from the world, to keep her indoors at all times, to keep her a deep and dark secret from outsiders. Orange retaliates through violence, acting out by hitting and pummeling her brother, or throwing herself against walls and doors. She remains muted for most of the novel, a person described as hideous, and yet, most beloved by her brother, Bo.

Bo, the center of the book, is heartachingly good, a young boy who is forced to survive tragedy and left to fend for himself through the confusion of unfortunate and difficult circumstances and events in his life. Though a young boy, he is burdened with responsibility from a place of neglect, a victim of his poverty, as well as his foreignness. Rather than a child who is taken care of, he is a child who must bear the responsibility of money for his family’s livelihood, his mother’s well-being, his sister’s day-to-day needs, and then eventually Bear’s care and training.

While he succumbs to violence to dull his emotional pain, the conflict in the book is thick and raw with misfortune after misfortune, which leads him to a travelling carnival and finally to center ring. He learns quickly how to put his fighting skills into action, unafraid to face Loralei, the fighting bear, an act he also quickly learns to manipulate and manage. While this earns him some money, it also earns him an opportunity to raise his own cub, which becomes a cathartic friendship, bound by trust, as much as it is by contract and elusive tricks.

With a backdrop between a sullen and secretive home, the turbulence and oddity of a freak show in circus, and the dingy freedom of homelessness in High Park, Bo must come to terms with the disappearance of both his mother and his sister as much as the loss of his home, his homeland, and his father, a victim of Agent Orange.

The plot will unravel the cruelty of the world in its ignorance and biases, its opportunistic abuse of those in need, and the surprising outcome of the absurd.

But, the narrative is both realistic as it is personal. The reader will do more than empathize for Bo, Orange, Bear, and their circumstances, but weep for them also. The book is well-paced and will satiate the reader’s interest long enough to have him or her put the book down in order to rest from its emotional intensity.

It cries out injustice as it does education on issues such as the Vietnam war, the production of Agent Orange, and the horrific results of its exposure to victims of war. It also looks at foreignness, oddity, and the fine line between morality and entertainment in spectacle. But, it hones in on the absolute power of love, friendship, and the meaning of family and beauty.

This is an exquisite and tender novel about the need do more than survive, but to be seen and be loved—as Bo, Orange, Thao, Bear, and Gerry are in themselves—imperfect, beautiful, and even broken.


Characters: 5 stars

Pacing: 5 stars

Cover Design: 3.5 stars

Plot: 4.5 stars


Zara’s Rating

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A special thanks to Random House of Canada for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.


About the Author:

kathryn kuitenbrouwer


To learn more about Kathryn, you can visit her bio here.


You can visit Kathryn on her Official Webpage.

You can follow Kathryn on Twitter.

You can be her fan on Goodreads.

You can like her on Facebook.


Have you ever heard of Agent Orange before?

What do you think is the most difficult thing about being a foreigner?

How does society’s view on beauty affect those who are severely disfigured? How can we change this?

Do you agree with carnivals or circuses having “Freak Shows?” Why or why not?

How do you think Bo and Bear are alike?

If you have read, “All Things Are Broken,” what did you enjoy most about the book?


zara cat stamp

Stuffing the Bibliotaphe Closet. 01.20.2014


By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez / @ZaraAlexis

This blog, The Bibliotaphe Closet, was birthed from a robust passion for the written word and its printed page. What started as a small collection of three to four books that belonged to a teenager who didn’t have the means to purchase an entire library, a lot of my reading was done through high school English class assignments, public library generosity, and a few finds from local garage sales. By my completion of university with a BA in Creative Writing and English Literature, my book collection grew to a whopping 300 books. As the years passed, the bookstores also grew larger, as did my income, and my consistent love of books. Ten bookshelves later, I’m at a personal best of 3000+ books in my collection.

I then discovered the word, bibliotaphe, which means book hoarder. I’ve moved a total of eight times and while I’ve lost no sleep over selling artifacts on hand through the accessibility of Kijiji, I have always mourned the loss of a good book. I’ve lent some to family members, friends, classmates, never to see them return. I’ve lost a few books while on trips abroad. I’ve even lost books by simply forgetting them at a local café. Which has made me quite vigilant in keeping an up-to-date database of all my “pretties” as I receive them publishers for review, purchase them on my own, or receive them as gifts from my thoughtful, bibliotaphe counterparts.

And what was inspired by the “Stacking the Shelves” blog meme, “Stuffing the Bibliotaphe Closet” was generated to feature the latest additions to my perpetually growing library.

While others may have “skeletons” in their closets, the only things in mine—are books. Well-loved books.

Here’s this week’s Stuffing the Bibliotaphe Closet edition. Not a bad start to the New Year.

Books for Review:

books for review - jan 20 2014


A special thanks to Random House of Canada

for providing me with the following copies for review:

Wonder by Dominque Fortier

Hollow City by Ransom Riggs

All the Broken Things by Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer


I just recently completed a review on Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs and am thrilled to have received Hollow City, its sequel, in the mail as soon as it hit the bookshelves. I trust it’s just as eerie and imaginative as the original Peregrine story and I can’t wait to turn its pages as soon as I complete my read and review of the translated novel by Dominique Fortier, Wonder, which is what I’m currently reading now. Soon after that, I will be privileged to read All the Broken Things, a tender story about a 14-year-old boy named Bo, a refugee from Vietnam, who lives in a small house in Toronto with his sister, Rose, a girl severely disfigured by the affects of Agent Orange.


Books I Bought:

books bought Jan 20 2014


Hellgoing by Lynn Coady, published by Astoria, an imprint of House of Anansi

11/22/63 by Stephen King, published by Gallery Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster

An Object of Beauty by Steve Martin, published by Grand Central Publishing, Hachette Book Group


While I’ve read and reviewed a number of Lynn Coady’s work, such as “The Antagonist,” which was nominated for the Giller Prize in 2011, I could not help but cheer for the success of her latest work, Hellgoing, which was not only nominated for the Giller, but its Grand Prize Winner in 2013. As a short story writer, I can certainly appreciate the craftsmanship of the short story, which is the collection held within the pages of Hellgoing and something I look forward to reading as I’ve heard Coady’s ability to create true and humorous dialogue is something to wonder at and applaud.

11/22/63 is a massive mountain of a book, totalling 849 pages in trade paperback, it is not only about the assassination of JFK, but time travel, which are topics King usually steers away from when his usual works feature the darkest of our fears when roused in his works of fiction that belong to the genre of horror. Stephen King is much beloved as he is idolized, a storyteller known to engage his readers in the dark of his stories.

And while I didn’t love Shop Girl, I congratulate Steve Martin for expanding his resume to include “creative writer” when he’s already a famous actor and comedian. Why write unless you actually have a story to tell and a voice to tell it in? And this novel also includes colourful graphics of art reproductions to accompany the story of fine art collecting. This is certainly a book I will check into as soon as I complete a few of my scheduled reviews.

Books I Won:

books won jan 20


An ARC of Some Thing Real by Heather Demetrios, published by Henry Holt

A copy of Under the Jeweled Sky by Alison McQueen, published by Source Books


I was lucky enough to win a copy of Some Thing Real and Under the Jeweled Sky both from contests on Facebook hosted by the books’ publishers. Thanks to Henry Holy and Source Books for these additions to my collection!



What does your Bibliotaphe Closet look like this year?

What book are you most looking forward to reading right now?

Of the books listed above, which are you most interested in reading?