Breaking Point is the second installment in a young adult trilogy that started with Article 5 by Kristen Simmons. The final book has not yet been scheduled for release.
The United States as we know it has not survived a brutal civil war followed by widespread economic turmoil. For some Americans, the answer to deep factionalism is to unite the country under a single conservative state religion, and the Constitution is replaced by a series of Articles which ban things like gay marriage and children out of wedlock, enforced by a militaristic government. Though Ember Miller was born over a decade before the War, her status as the underaged child of a single mother is viewed as treasonous. She and her mother were arrested and Em was sent off to a rehabilitation center in Article 5. Instead, she escaped and joined the resistance movement.
A strong follow-up to a great debut
I adored Article 5. While the series bears some resemblance to Atwood’s classic A Handmaid’s Tale in the deeply conservative religious dystopian concept, in execution it’s vastly different. Em’s society is still in transition from the world that we know to a grim new reality. Women remember a time when they could work outside the home and wear jeans. Men remember when their best option for employment was not as a soldier for the Federal Bureau of Reformation. As such, Em doesn’t feel that she or her mother have done anything to even be ashamed of, much less arrested for, and does not accept the reality that the FBR is trying to impose. There is a lot of visible friction between the populace and the government. Breaking Point picks up three weeks after Article 5 closes, hits the ground running, and never looks back. All of the things I liked in Article 5 (world building, characterization, pacing) are present in Breaking Point.
On the note of characterization: Simmons is flawless at it. She has her masters in social work, and that means a lot of time spent studying psychology. This is evident in her characters. Chase has one of the best presentations of post-traumatic stress disorder that I think I’ve ever read. Em’s grief cycle is impeccable. Even secondary characters have believable backstories that deeply inform their behavior during the story, and the changes they make during the book are fully supported on all counts. Even the masses of society follow well documented psychological norms for people going through deep economic stress in a totalitarian regime. If you’ve bought into the idea that young adult fiction is filled with characters that are superficial a la Twilight, I need refer you no further. The craft Simmons brings to her characterization is on a rare level, regardless of target audience or genre.
Not all roses
That’s not to say that Breaking Point doesn’t have its issues. This is the second book in the trilogy, and Em is figuring out how to move on now that her original plan from Article 5 has reached its conclusion. However, events in the wider world are moving faster than she is, forcing her to react faster than she can effectively plan. While Em is definitely moving in a single direction and acting as a distinct protagonist, the urgent drive from Article 5 is lessened. Breaking Point is really about Em reassessing who she is, what she wants, and what she’s prepared to do to get it, rather than about Em actually doing anything. I am confident, however, that this means that we’re going to see Em really blossom and come into her own in book three. I would warn you, however, that if you dislike book two of three dark endings, leave this one alone until the final book is published.
Why should you read this book?
Breaking Point doesn’t take place hundreds of years in the future; the roots of its potential reality are all around us. More so than many dystopias, its message is an active warning of things to come. Simmons is a strong writer with some real talent I look forward to enjoying in the future. Best of all, her work stays away from a number of young adult tropes that have cropped up lately, making it feel fresh and unique. I can’t honestly think of a reason you shouldn’t read this book or Article 5.