Heather Buchta’s YA contemporary debut novel, Beyond the Break, seamlessly blends the trials of young adulthood with encouraging spirituality, hitting similar chords to that of the movie Soul Surfer and Jenny Han’s series To All the Boys I Loved Before.
The story follows a teenage, Christian girl named Lovette, who lives in Manhattan Beach, California. After her older brother suffered a terrible surfing accident that caused him to have to relearn how to walk and talk, Lovette lives by two rules: 1) no surfing, at least that’s what her parents demand. And 2) no dating, unless it’s for marriage purposes. That was a vow Lovette made when she was twelve between herself and Jesus after her brother woke up from his coma.
And now in her junior year of high school, her two rules have worked pretty well. She’s happy. she has friends at school, youth group, and a job. At least that’s what Lovette tells herself. But then there’s Jake Evans. A boy from her childhood that suddenly reappears and rocks her world. He’s cute, sweet, and stirs up feelings in Lovette that she has been trying to avoid for the past four years— the desire to get out and surf again, and also, quite possibly, have a romantic relationship.
Lovette is forced to tackle her beliefs head on, wrestling with the idea on whether it is possible to have these feelings for Jake while still staying true to her convictions.
As a Christian myself, I found myself afraid to read this book. Christian fiction, specifically YA, is often so cheesy, I can barely stand it. So with bated breath, I dove in, and I was delightfully surprised. It was cringe, but it was because I recognized myself and people I know. It was cheesy, but in that classic YA romance kind of way, just like in To All the Boys I Loved Before. I ended up loving it, and I was shocked.
It was also unexpectedly moving, in a “wow, these characters who I thought were perfect, and cardboard stereotypes, actually are just as screwed up as me.”
Lovette felt like high school me; I related to her in a really powerful way, that it almost had me in tears near the end of the story. She struggles with wanting to do the right thing. What is the right thing to do? How do I know if it’s right? What do I do when the thing I want isn’t the right thing? To see her slip and fall, but then also have mini triumphs was incredibly cathartic for me.
I also appreciated how Buchta was able to make her friendships not cliche, but have ups and downs. People get hurt and act in cruel ways. But there is also forgiveness and a true friendship kind of love that is beautiful to read. The romance is well written as well. Jake and Lovette have chemistry on the page. He was not the stereotypical perfect boy, like I was expecting. He had his own mood swings and baggage to deal with. I was expecting a cliche teenage romance, but instead I was rewarded with realistic emotions and relationship struggles.
Lastly, I have to applaud Buchta’s ability to write the Christian worldview in a relatable and non-overbearing way. However, she does not shy from the hard questions like “where is God when bad stuff happens?”, or “if I sin too much will God stop loving me?” Buchta answers them gracefully and winsomely that doesn’t feel like some cheap platitude or having religion shoved down your throat.
In the end, Beyond the Break is a YA contemporary full of heart and honesty, that is willing to brave the waters of doubt and tragedy, but also able to rise up and see the hope and beauty in the world.