THE BREAKAWAY by Michelle Davidson Argyle
jacket flap blurb
When Naomi Jensen is kidnapped, it takes her parents two days to realize she’s missing. Escape isn’t high on her list of priorities when all she has to return to is an abusive boyfriend and parents who never paid much attention to her. For the first time in her life she’s part of a family—even if it is a family of criminals. But she’s still a captive. In a desperate attempt to regain some control in her life, Naomi embarks on a dangerous plan to make one of her kidnappers think she’s falling in love with him. The plan works too well, and when faced with the chance to escape, Naomi isn’t sure she wants to take it.
The first thing I should say is that I devoured this book. It was supremely engaging, and there was never a point where I wanted to put it down. I liked it. But, objectively, it doesn’t work. The author was clearly trying to write a shades-of-gray story where no characters can be called truly evil or completely good. A lot like the book I previously reviewed, actually, Conjured. But Conjured succeeded and The Breakaway did not.
There are only a handful of characters, which works well for this story. There’s Naomi, the protagonist and third-person viewpoint character. There’s her mother, Karen, and her father, Jason. Jason has a very small part; he’s one of the background characters. Elizabeth, Karen’s sister, is another.
Then there’s Brad, Naomi’s emotionally-manipulative douche-bag boyfriend. She doesn’t realize she’s in that kind of relationship until later, when she learns, with Jesse, what relationships are supposed to be like.
The kidnappers comprise of Evelyn, her husband Steve, her brother Eric, and a man named Jesse. For most of the book, we don’t know how Jesse’s connected to the others, except for the fact that he is an intern at Steve’s architecture business. At first, this is fine, because his connection doesn’t seem to be at all pertinent. But then, suddenly, near the end, he announces what happened:
Jesse is a thief. Low on cash, he agrees to steal jewelry for him and a friend. The target jewelry store is where Evelyn works. Unbeknownst to Jesse, Evelyn is Steve’s wife—Steve is Jesse’s boss. And they’re close. So, Jesse plans to get his friend to rob Evelyn; taking her keys and replacing them with a false set. Then he will take the real keys, get into the jewelry store, steal some stuff, and get down. And presumably dump the keys somewhere.
But Evelyn fights back and the friend ends up stabbing her and taking the keys. Jesse finds out her relationship to Steve when Steve tells him his wife’s in the hospital and he has to go be with her. Jesse feels awful. A stabbing was never supposed to be a part of the equation, and now he’s done it to Steve’s wife. To make matters worse, Jesse says to Steve that he couldn’t believe Evelyn had been stabbed. Of course, Steve never mentioned the stabbed bit, just that she was in the hospital.
Well, he decides he still has to go through with the robbery. But Steve, after making sure Eric was with Evelyn, followed Jesse and threatened to turn him in. In the end, though, they struck a deal: Jesse would help them pull of robberies, and in return he’d get to live with them and keep a percentage of what they made. And, you know, Eric wouldn’t kill him.
So, why does any of this matter? Because Jesse decides to take Naomi, drive her to the police station, and let her free. At this point, that’s pretty much the last thing Naomi wants, but he forces her and then drives off. And Jesse does this partially because he feels shitty for kidnapping Naomi in the first place (they thought she saw them robbing a jewelry store, had to find out what she knew, and then realized even if she knew nothing like she claimed, she had still seen them and could identify them. Plus, Evelyn really wanted to keep her and have her like a daughter) and partially because he isn’t Eric’s biggest fan and he dislikes the situation he’s been put into.
It’s not really all that clear, actually. For the first three-fourths of the book, Jesse, Eric, Steve, and Evelyn seem to get along. They act like a family, and treat each other like family. But then suddenly after Jesse spills this story, he’s talking about turning them in himself and how they need to pay for what they’ve done and eventually how he needs to pay and blah blah blah.
It’s just not consistent with the entire rest of the book. It feels like a rushed ending, trying to get Naomi back to her parents. See, at the beginning, Naomi’s parents are pretty much the definition of “absent.” They don’t spend any time with her. They don’t seem to care for her at all. But over the course of the story, there are a few chapters in Karen’s (Naomi’s mom) point of view.
For Karen, it’s something of a don’t-know-what-you-have-‘till-it’s-gone situation. Or, at least, that’s what we’re supposed to believe. I, personally, did not find Karen very believable in that role. I think her husband Jason is supposed to have had a change of heart, too, but we don’t see much of him. He has a minor role.
I can see what the author was trying to do. She wanted a life-is-complicated book and she didn’t want Naomi to stay with her kidnappers because hey, there’s the whole abusive emotional bonding thing that could mean Naomi’s just being manipulated and she’s still and victim and yadda yadda yadda. This was the goal. It didn’t work.
The book would have been far better if the kidnappers were truly good people and Karen and Jason were really kind of crappy parents. Crappy parents exist. Good criminals probably exist. After all, they’re only criminals because they want to buy back Evelyn and Eric’s grandmother’s house in Italy and live there: the one place they were ever truly happy. If the criminals were more like the two kidnappers in the movie, Ruthless People.
In Ruthless People, a millionaire intends to murder his wife and run off with his mistress. But then Ken and Sandy Kessler kidnap the wife. They want revenge on the millionaire because he stole Sandy’s fashion design and got super-rich off it. Eventually, the wife, Barbara, bonds with Ken and Sandy. She falls in love with Sandy’s designs, and agrees to go into business with her. She is released, only to come right back after she finds a newspaper with an article about the millionaire’s mistress. Through a bizarre series of events, Ken, Sandy, and Barbara are able to rob the millionaire and get away clean.
So in the movie, Ken and Sandy are, in fact, good people. They never hurt Barbara or anything. They chain her to a bed, but other than that they try and make her happy because they don’t have anything against her, just her husband.
I’d have liked this book a lot more, and I think it would have worked a lot better, if Evelyn, Steve, Eric, and Jesse were good people in a bad situation as well. They kidnap Naomi after a mistake, but try and keep her happy and make her comfortable because they’re really not bad and they don’t want to hurt anybody. Of course, for this to work, Eric would have to change.
In the book, Eric has a weird-ass personality. He’s mostly nice, but then he’ll suddenly snap when Naomi disobeys him or yells at him and slap her and threaten to kill her if she runs. I found it difficult to reconcile the two halves of Eric, especially considering how the other characters treat him. It’s like his evil side only exists for Naomi, for plot purposes. He would be a lot more believable if he was a little more like Malcolm Reynolds from Firefly, or Leroy Jethro Gibbs from NCIS. Someone strict and intimidating, but a good person at their core.
I did like her final confrontation with Brad, and I think that should be kept, but it could go a different way. If, on her way with the kidnappers out of the country, she runs into Brad and he tries to “free” her, she could confront him about his manipulative, abusive behavior and escape back to the kidnappers, who are more like a family to her than Karen and Jason ever were.
rating out of five stars