This discussion guide was first published on Culturewatch.org.
Ginny Howard is sixteen - a contented, carefree teenager who is a talented artist. She lives near a Welsh coastal town with her father. Her mother, a Haitian artist, died when Ginny was a baby. The summer holidays are about to start and her great friend Andy, the only other young black person in the village, has come home from catering college for the summer. Andy and his friend Dafydd plan to live in a grotty caravan in a field near the beach. Ginny will be working at the café run by the parents of her best friend, Rhiannon. Life is great.
But then it all begins to unravel. Ginny comes home from school one day to find a social worker from Liverpool talking to her father. Ginny is terrified that someone has accused her father of abuse and that she's going to be put into care. Then Rhiannon reports that her estranged sister, Helen, has been in contact out of the blue - she has got to know Ginny's dad and wants to know about Ginny. In particular, Helen wants to know if Ginny was adopted and if it was true that Ginny's dad has been in prison.
Slowly Ginny begins to become suspicious that her father has been keeping some big secrets from her. Her fears are confirmed when she discovers she has a half brother whom her dad had never mentioned. What's worse, the boy's mother is dying of cancer and he's likely to disturb Ginny's peace and tranquility by coming to live with them. Ginny begins to become uncertain of her identity and her place in the world, uncertain of everything. Gradually she begins to piece together the story of her life and the tragedies that were part of her childhood in order to find some answers.
Philip Pullman first came to fame through his trilogy, His Dark Materials, but he had already found success as a children's author with a wide range of books including adventure stories (the Sally Lockhart quartet, etc.), fairy stories (I Was A Rat and others) and teen novels like The Broken Bridge.
In common with many of Philip Pullman's books, The Broken Bridge has a strong sense of place. It's set in the area in which Pullman spent his own teenage years. Like Ginny he lived outside the village and was free to roam all over the countryside. It was at this time that he discovered the visual arts. He says, 'I drew obsessively, the landscape, mainly: the massive rounded hills, the wide pearly estuary, the tumbled sand dunes, the dry stone walls, the ancient church half-buried in the sand. I learned that landscape by drawing it, and I came to care for it with a lover's devotion. Later in The Broken Bridge I wrote about a girl making the same discoveries, loving and drawing the same landscape. Many other strands went into the making of that book, but what lay at its heart was love; it's a love letter to a landscape.' (www.philip-pullman.com)
As in many of Philip Pullman's books, one of the central themes in The Broken Bridge is growing up. Ginny has to readjust the way she thinks about herself and everything else as she discovers the truth about her past. Like so many of his protagonists, she makes a painful transition from innocence to experience and wisdom.
It was art that had taken her mother away, because art had no conscience; it demanded, it was cruel, it took what it wanted brutally and paid no heed to the consequences. Or (as Rhiannon would say) it wasn't kind, it was sexy. (p. 286)