Book Review - Scars

Author: Cheryl Rainfield
Publisher:  Westside Books (Original Pub. Date: March 24, 2010; Paperback Release: May 31, 2011)
Audience: Young Adult
Source: Copy for Review
Contemporary Fiction * Young Adult

Description from GoodReads:
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.

The topics of sexual abuse and self-injurious behavior are never easy topics to write about or read about.  How do you say that a book dealing with a topic such as this is a good book or a great book?  It always feels strange to me to say that for fear someone might mistaken it for being entertaining.  I then find myself creating my own way of describing books and movies that do a great job in dealing with a really tough topic.  I prefer to respond-  "this is good in a disturbing way" - meaning the author or director did a good job with the a troubling topic and I should be bothered enough about what was written to move me into some serious discussion, thought or action which will hopefully be life altering.

Cheryl Rainfield's Scars falls into that category.  Her main character, 15 year old Kendra was sexually abused as a child and is now working with a therapist to identify the person who raped her and to find healing.  One of the ways that Kendra deals with the pain and anger of her past is to cut herself.  Kendra's emotions are real, stark, and yet, you can see her fighting to find herself, to find hope, and to find a way to trust people.  

Scars deals head on with issues of sexual abuse and self-harm (cutting) in a straight-forward, no nonsense manner.  It doesn't glamorize the topic or make the whole thing seem like there are easy solutions.  Yes, the book is less than 250 pages which limits how much of the process can be drawn out or explained, but the reader still understands that though there is some "resolution" for the main character at the end that the healing process will still be a long journey.   I appreciated that Rainfield didn't try to make the whole thing neat or palatable.  

Sometimes, I think it is easier to read fantasy stories because the monsters in those books are real monsters that main characters can identify as the villain and usually have some super power or ability to use to fight the monster. However, in real life, monsters don't look like monsters.  They are men and women and sometimes even children who act in ways that are horrific.  They are often times the people we even know, live with, work with, or encounter in our every day lives.  We have no super powers to fight them.  But we do have a voice and we can make choices to speak out against these atrocities.  Rainfield has used her voice, her writing voice, to show the courage of one teen who must remember and then confront the person who abused her.  

Is this book for everyone?  Maybe or maybe not.  However, I know that I would have appreciated a book on this topic when I was a teen and knew of individuals who were hurting and used self-harm to deal with the pain.  I know that Cheryl has heard from teens who have told her how much the book has helped them.  And for this reason, I would lean more towards maybe over maybe not.  

I also appreciated that Scars doesn't eliminate all adults from being potential sources of help and encouragement. Kendra has adults that are safe in different ways and at different levels that she turns to (a therapist, an art teacher, a family friend) for support and help.  My hope is that for teens dealing with serious issues in their own personal life that there will be a few of those safe adults to turn to.  Also, for both adults and teens reading Scars, Rainfield has included a list of resources at the back of the book which provide more information on how to provide help for someone facing issues of abuse and self-harm.

For those who want to know more about Cheryl Rainfield, you can check out her blog.  I have linked to a post she did in response to a misinformed Wall Street Journal article this weekend.  To read her post and check out the links, click here

You can follow Cheryl Rainfield on twitter: @cherylrainfield

Look for my interview with Cheryl Rainfield later in the week.