Review: Scars

Kendra, fifteen, hasn’t felt safe since she began to recall devastating memories of childhood sexual abuse, especially because she still can’t remember the most important detail– her abuser’s identity. Frightened, Kendra believes someone is always watching and following her, leaving menacing messages only she understands. If she lets her guard down even for a minute, it could cost Kendra her life. To relieve the pressure, Kendra cuts; aside from her brilliantly expressive artwork, it’s her only way of coping. Since her own mother is too self-absorbed to hear her cries for help, Kendra finds support in others instead: from her therapist and her art teacher, from Sandy, the close family friend who encourages her artwork, and from Meghan, the classmate who’s becoming a friend and maybe more. But the truth about Kendra’s abuse is just waiting to explode, with startling unforeseen consequences. Scars is the unforgettable story of one girl’s frightening path to the truth.–From Amazon

There’s a common saying among writers: Write the book you want to read. Thank you Cheryl Rainfield; you have done the job for me. One of my biggest passions is learning about the psychology of self-injury, and I have found representation of self-injury in literature to be severely lacking. That’s not to say it doesn’t exist at all. There’s Julia Hoban’s Willow and Patricia Mccormick’s Cut, and I have seen small references to self-injury pop up with a little more frequency lately. However, given the incredibly large number of teens who self-injure, this is not enough. YA lit has been doing an excellent job of shining a light on all kinds of other taboo topics recently. I hope to see self-injury represented in YA books more often with the same sense of knowledge and compassion shown by Rainfield.

Cheryl Rainfield’s Scars is about Kendra, a teen who begins remembering the years of sexual abuse she had repressed. Kendra can remember the smells and the pain and the words of her abuser, but she cannot remember who he is. She begins to worry that maybe it is her teacher or her mom’s best friend, maybe it is somebody who has been right in her sight the entire time. This worry grows as Kendra receives threatening warnings, warnings meaning to remind her that she needs to shut up about her memories or she will be killed. Kendra hides from the abuse, the warnings, and the memories through her painting and through her cutting–those are the only coping mechanisms she knows. Kendra doesn’t have to go through everything alone–she finds support from a caring therapist, an art teacher, and a new girlfriend–but only she can remember the identity of the man who hurt her when she was a child. Will Kendra be able to remember who abused her and make them pay for their crime before it’s too late?

I wanted to race through Scars. I wanted an answer to the mystery, and I wanted to see an ending in which Kendra was safe and healing from the pain of her past. I didn’t want to put this book down, but I had to. I read Scars in short bursts, stopping reluctantly at the end of a chapter to catch my breath before moving on. Rainfield’s writing is so descriptive; she creates a dizzying whirlwind of sights, sounds, and smells. It was sensory overload in book form, and I couldn’t take in too much at once. Scars is a brave and beautiful book, but it’s not an easy one to digest. And it shouldn’t be. A book that packs this much of a punch should knock the wind out of you; it should make you stop and think and feel uncomfortable.

Scars isn’t a perfect book. There were moments when the dialogue felt discordant with the other elements of the book, veering toward educational speech and away from the authentic voices of the characters. In moments like this, it would be as though a character drinking at a party suddenly started reciting facts about the dangers of alcohol. Sure, it’s important, but I would rather learn about those dangers through your plot than your characters’ words. I recognize that it’s hard to find the right balance when dealing with self-injury, as you want to teach people about the issue, but it is difficult to do that and make the information sound like something somebody would actually say. This was my problem with Willow, as well, and I did find Scars less problematic than Hoban’s novel in this regard.

Educational information is presented at the end of the book, where Rainfield includes an impressive “Resource Guide for Readers.” This section features a variety of places where readers can seek out help or more information about abuse and self-harm. There are lists of books, articles, and websites with an abundance of information. Much of this information is available on Rainfield’s Website. You should also check out this recent article on releasing pain through writing.

Check back tomorrow for a guest post from Cheryl Rainfield and a giveaway of a signed copy of Scars.

Quotable Quotes from Scars

  • “I need painting almost as much as I need cutting maybe more. Because if I couldn’t paint, I’d be a girl without a mouth. I say things through painting that I can’t say any other way. It’s how I pull up hidden truths, express the pain that I hide from others. But when things are really bad, it’s only my utility knife that releases the screams inside me.”
  • “I don’t feel anything at first: no relief, no comfort. Just the panic coiling inside me, vibrating ni my chest. I slash again and again, flesh opening up to expose little white bubbles of fat, until dark blood wells up to cover them and spills over my arm in wide, curling arcs, thin and hot. I barely feel the pain–just the air rushing into my lungs, the thoughts slowing down. The panic drains away, and I sag in relief.”
  • “Mom’s paintings are picturesque views of the world, little postcards of happiness, while mine are all emotion and color…No boats in the harbor or sunlit meadows for me.”
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