Review: The Science of Breakable Things Gets to the Yolk of Human Complexity

The Science of Breakable Things

Review: Hope remains an unbreakable force in Tae Keller’s The Science of Breakable Things.

Tae Keller’s The Science of Breakable Things might be the longest kid lit pick I’ve read in a while, but the length was definitely worth it considering how the book moved me. And it didn’t sway me in a cloyingly sentimental way. I legitimately big-girl cried over the main character’s emotional complexities and breakthroughs. I came for the plants (her mom’s a botanist!) and stayed for the feelings. 

The book follows Natalie as she navigates living with her depressed mother and understanding her own feelings about her family. It’s slow at first since Natalie is relatively opaque about her feelings at the beginning. Sometimes at the expense of her own emotional health, Natalie makes it her personal mission to cheer her mother up. She enlists in an egg dropping contest with her friends. Why? Winning contest money would allow her to fly her mother out to New Mexico to see a rare Cobalt Blue Orchid, a flower that survives against impossible odds. This plan was Natalie’s one shot at repairing her seemingly broken mother.

What I love about this book is how Keller captures subtle emotions — the fleeting anger in someone’s voice, the awkwardness in opening yourself up to friendship. While she presents these astute snapshots of emotion, Keller also illustrates broader analogies about love and life. I was taken with the metaphor of eggs breaking easily, but Natalie persisting with her science project nonetheless — just as she does with loving with her mother.

And speaking of her mother, it’s refreshing to see how Keller writes Natalie’s parents as people with hopes, dreams, flaws, and frustrations. Natalie’s mother, a devoted scientist and mom, struggles with depression. Her dad Yeong-Jin, while an accomplished psychologist, tries his best to communicate with his daughter their family situation, but his good intentions don’t always land. In books for younger readers, adults often feel like vague authority figures who belong in a league of their own. That’s not the case here. 

The verdict? The Science of Breakable Things is an endearing and introspective read, never replacing honest emotions with easy sentiment. I’d definitely recommend it if heartfelt slice-of-life stories are your speed. 

Get The Science of Breakable Things on Bookshop.org.

Grade: 5-8

Published: 2018

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