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All the Broken Things

3.76  ·  Rating details ·  775 ratings  ·  117 reviews
A novel of exceptional heart and imagination about the ties that bind us to each other, broken and whole, from one of the most exciting voices in Canadian fiction.
     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
Paperback, 352 pages
Published January 14th 2014 by Random House Canada
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Average rating 3.76  · 
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 ·  775 ratings  ·  117 reviews

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Ammara Abid
Jan 18, 2017 rated it really liked it
Adults hated to be asked questions they could not answer.

This book is beautiful, tragic and moving. Brilliantly crafted, broke my heart at the same time fill my heart with courage and hope. I like it's lyrical writing style, emotional story, nice plot revovling around Bo & Orange but more could be linked with the war and agent Orange and it's deleterious effects on the living.

Moreover I would go with 5 stars but last 30 pages were flat, didn't hit me, the whole book was amazing but the end c
Oct 16, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: canadian-author
This should be listed as YA. I felt it was written for 14-16 year olds.
The story of Bo and his family is a mixed bag. There are few details throughout, many issues to face. The treatment of Orange was, at first, rather distasteful.
An easy reading story, with grit. However, it's a book for the young, with the concerns of the young. There are also so many issues for poor Bo to deal with in his young age: the Vietnam war, Agent Orange, racism, immigration, his sister's deformity, earning money fo
After the first 30 pages of All the Broken Things, I knew that I was reading something special. Moving, tragic, and full of impact, Kuitenbrower’s story of 14-year old Bo’s struggle to heal his family and find acceptance was beautiful and heart-breaking. The novel takes place in Toronto in 1983. Despite having lived in Canada for several years now, there are only two things that Bo cares about: fighting, and his little sister Orange. Born severely disfigured as a result of Agent Orange, a herbic ...more
Jan 26, 2015 added it
A wonderful, illuminating story about people and animals in bondage and those who put them in that situation, and how nature and freedom are ultimately ascendant—sometimes taking a terrible route to get there.

A story about how mankind breaks things. About those who are not afraid to see things as they are, some of whom wish to keep things broken so they can profit from it. About others who hide their broken things because they are ashamed. About the dilemma of who sees more clearly, and who does
Nov 27, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I've been reading Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer's work from her first collection of short stories, Way Up, and over the intervening years we've become friends. I know her work well. This new novel seems, in many ways, to be the book she has been tacking toward for years via her short stories and other novels, and it's a beauty.

In this modern fairy tale, she has woven together Agent Orange, bear wrestling and an Orpheus-like journey into a coming-of-age story that asks us to consider what is real, what i
Jun 29, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: can-con, 2014
He wasn't embarrassed. He was ashamed. And he wasn't ashamed of Rose. It was something deeper. It was the shame Teacher conveyed, by trying to fix things. He wanted to shout that these things were just broken. He wanted her to understand the pride of broken things.

From the Author's Note at the beginning of All the Broken Things: The strangest of the truths in this novel are the facts of a bear wrestling circuit in Ontario, the production of Agent Orange in the small town of Elmira, Ontario,
Mar 14, 2014 rated it liked it
Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer’s All the Broken Things centres around the bildungsroman story of Bo, a boy who wrestles bears and other boys, cares for his sister (Orange) and mother and navigates Vietnamese, refugee identities in 1970s Canada. Bo’s coming of age is as much about coming into his own sense of self as it is (and perhaps this is always the case in this genre) coming to understand that the people around him are as complex and flawed as he is.

As the title suggests, the novel is occupied with
Corinne Wasilewski
Apr 21, 2014 rated it liked it
Although I enjoyed reading this book, the story left me vaguely unsettled in the end. After giving it some thought, I think these are the reasons why:

-it reads like a modern day fairy tale with no lack of "giants to slay", however, instead of being "Once upon a time in a faraway land" this story is grounded in reality. We know this story's precise time and setting, we know about the Vietnam War and Agent Orange. It is this strange juxtaposition of fact and storytelling that I found jarring as a
Brendan Linwood
Dec 29, 2016 rated it it was amazing
It always frustrates me when I hear people ten years younger than me talk about reading the same books in high school that my parents read when they were that age. I have nothing against the classics; I just feel that our endless fixation on the same works published 50 or more years ago creates in some people a belief that nothing worth reading, worth really getting into, is being written today. This book is the perfect proof that that is not so.
Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer has written a masterpiece of
Feb 05, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction
Reading this book was an experience. At times I thought, where is this going? And then it would absolutely blow me away. Her writing is wonderful. She has a deep knowledge of those with physical and developmental disabilities, which is a large part of my life. I personally care for those who cannot care for themselves and find that society reacts in one of two way, either with pity or gratitude.
She takes the side of gratitude, which is refreshing and wonderful. I don't have the exact quotes, bu
Lauren Davis
Jul 15, 2015 rated it it was amazing
An original, powerfully written book about the immigrant experience, Vietnam's agent Orange and bear wrestling. Yup, you heard that right. The juxtaposition between gritty realism and magical surrealism is a real tour-de-force. Great review here: ...more
Michael Bryson
Jan 03, 2015 rated it really liked it
Recommended to Michael by:
Shelves: novels
Despite being locked into a specific place (Toronto) and time (early 1980s) and linked to historical events and things (Vietnam War, Agent Orange, Elmira chemical plant), the action unfolds in a dream-like manner. Vietnamese refugee family in Canada becomes linked to bear wrestling carnies. It's delightful, sobering, exciting, frightening, and highly readable. Yum. ...more
Feb 21, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Loved this beautifully written novel. Loved how Kuitenbrouwer combined an urban tale with a wilderness survival story and I was completely swept away by the story of Bo and his bear. This novel took me on a fantastic journey and I really enjoyed every step of it.
Anndrea C
Once in a while, I'll browse Quill and Quire for Canadian literature because I love books set in Toronto. LOVE. And I also want to support local authors. All the broken things by Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer was one of the books they reviewed at the time so I picked it up.

Since moving up to North York and having the pleasure of commuting daily (sarcasm), I switched over from reading off my iPhone and started reading off a tablet. I got this book prior to that change so I had this on and off relationshi
Adriyanna Zimmermann
Jan 08, 2016 rated it really liked it
I think Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer is a fantastic storyteller; her writing has a very lyrical aspect to it. She’s able to combine several important issues without overwhelming the reader. When it comes to All The Broken Things, everything is connected and flows really well. Kuitenbrouwer brings out a very emotional response from the reader and presents two ways of looking at things.

I instantly liked Bo and thought the author did a very good job of pushing the reader to be sympathetic towards him. Fou
Kerry Pickens
Nov 27, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: read-2020
This book should be listed as a YA novel as the plot is pretty simple and very slow. The main character is a 14 year old Vietnamese boy who has a severely disabled younger sister. The right of the story borderline on distasteful events as he becomes involved in training bears for a carnival, which usually involves animal cruelty. Another carnival worker that runs tries to get the boy's younger sister in his freak show. At the point, the story gets too weird. ...more
Lorina Stephens
Jan 11, 2015 rated it it was amazing
I was very much minded of Rohinton Mistry's novels when reading Kuitenbrower's All the Broken Things, albeit we've changed from writing about the tragedies of India's people to the tragedy of Canada's.

In this case Kuitenbrower tells a deftly-crafted tale of a Vietnamese mother, son and daughter who are refugees just after the infamous civil war that ravaged their country. Not only are they victims of the war, but of that deadly and devastating chemical known as Agent Orange, large quantities of
Nov 27, 2013 rated it it was amazing
This book is most definitely worth a read on a snowy winter day, or a warm summer day for that matter. There is a most satisfying balance of incredible fact with credible fiction. I always love to see how an author will weave seemly disparate events and people, hopes and dreams, together into one tale. This, of course, is the art of the author Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer, a expert storyteller, known for her short stories and earlier novels. Who else could draw together a wrestling bear, a young refuge ...more
Aug 31, 2014 rated it really liked it
Bo lives in a rental house with his Mom, Rose, with sponsorship from a church and a group of people who helped them when they escaped VietNam after Agent Orange. His sister, Orange, is hidden away at home - locked inside her deformities and his mother's shame.

Bo fights the same boy every day, and one day, a Circus comes to town. A man sees Bo fight, and gives him a chance at a new source of income - fighting a circus bear. Then he brings Bo a cub, whom Bo names Bear, and they become best friends
Dec 30, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
Enchanting. Heartbreaking. Life-affirming.

I can't say enough about this book. When I think about some of its elements: Vietnamese "boat people" settling into Ontario, Agent Orange, bears, bear-wrestling, "freak shows"; it sounds preposterous, but it is exactly the opposite. Somehow Kuuitenbrouwer combines these themes to tell a tender, never-to-be-forgotten tale.

Bo, is a compelling, admirable, believable character and it is through him that we discover all the broken things. His life and how he
Apr 16, 2016 rated it it was ok
Shelves: canadian-authors
"All the Broken Things" had a lot of interesting themes - the Vietnam war, poverty in Canada, the immigrant experience, living with a disabilty or "differentness" - but the story itself was just bizarre and unsettling. I get that it was supposed to be almost mythological, fable-like... but so many far-fetched elements just seemed to be shoe-horned into the narrative. Bear wrestling, bullying, a travelling freak show, a child disfigured by chemical warfare, a depressed mother who copes with alcoh ...more
Jun 24, 2014 rated it it was ok
The premise is an engaging one - the experience of Vietnamese immigrants to Toronto following the use of Agent Orange, the notion that there is an undeniable beauty in things that are broken, the notion that sometimes animals make better friends than humans ever could. Sadly, none of these themes are explored fully. While the characters are refreshingly not stock ones none of them are developed fully enough to result in a compelling text that you couldn't put down and walk away from. ...more
Jan 02, 2014 rated it it was ok
Shelves: canadian
The premise and the fact that this was too recent history were the most appealing part of the novel. The writing style was personal and very olfactory - but I had no sympathy for the mother character. Orange was vivid, but the bear which promised to be more of a character only added slightly to the story.
Jan 27, 2014 rated it really liked it
Beautiful and sad at the same time. I had the overall feeling of melancholy throughout the read. It was easy to feel sorry for Bo but celebrate him at the same time. I was a bit unsatisfied by the open-ended ending though, it would have been nice to know there was something positive happening for Bo's future. ...more
Penny (Literary Hoarders)
3.5 - 4. A tender coming of age story nothing quite like you've read before. ...more
Jan 20, 2014 rated it it was ok
Not the best book, not the worst.

Dec 19, 2015 rated it really liked it
Jan 12, 2016 rated it really liked it
Canada Reads 2016 long list

So, so good. This one took me by surprise.
Dec 27, 2015 rated it it was ok
(view spoiler) ...more
Kuitenbrouwer is a fantastic storyteller!! Such a beautiful writer too!!
The story is quite compelling and sensitive. Overall it's just so well-written.

A story about growing up and the long lasting impact that war and chemical warfare has on families. You'll be cheering for love and crying at the hardships but all the while you'll be rooting for the understanding of how these events were ever allowed to have occurred in the first place.

I found the characters in this book to be believable and wher
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I am the author of the novels All The Broken Things, Perfecting, and The Nettle Spinner, as well as, the short fiction collection Way Up. My recent work is published in Joyland, Numéro Cinq, Significant Objects, Riddle Fence, Filter, The Walrus and Granta.

I teach at The University of Toronto and online through The New York Times Knowledge Network. I advise students in the University of Guelph MFA.

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