I can tell you right now that Scars grabbed my attention from the beginning and I actually went out of my way to grab a card to order it so that it would arrive in time for the signing. The only reason it's taken me this long to finish up and sit down to write my review is that despite being a shorter book, its design is quite heavy (which is lovely in terms of quality, not so much for my wrists.) I finally figured out that I could read comfortably at our kitchen table, though, and then nothing could pull me from this.
I'm going to try and tell you why I loved this book so much, and why I feel so strongly that everyone should rush out and read it, but I honestly cannot guarantee that words will do Scars justice.
The Plot: (Summary 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.
Dealing with several key issues, Scars is the kind of novel that was bound to either be profound, powerful and moving, or to simply be too much. Fortunately, at least for me, I found it to be the former of these two things. Cheryl tackles the various conflicts and issues going on in Kendra's life with honesty and heart. She knows when to up the pressure or intensity, and when to take a step back or give the reader a glimpse of a ray of sunshine--a sense of hope that tells us despite all she's going through, that Kendra has people she loves and things she is passionate about that are worth living for.
Another thing that I think was fantasically done was how Cheryl turned the question of who had abused Kendra into a mystery, since Kendra could not remember / was repressing the memory until she was ready to face it. The way that this made every male character suspect--both to me and to Kendra as she struggled to deal with the fact that her abuser had started to stalk her, really helped me connect with the book and with Kendra. I felt like we were "in" that aspect of the story together, both trying to figure out who had committed this atrocious crime.
What makes this all the more powerful is that, at least in my case, I started out curious and wanting to find that out, and my need to figure it out, and to find out what would happen to Kendra, grew more and more intense the longer I read and grew to care about her as a character. There's a point in the book where Megan (the love interest) says something about liking Kendra because she doesn't bullshit. Megan values her honesty and that same trait is what makes her so able to powerfully narrate this story. As I kept reading, I went from simply wanting the 'truth' to wanting to know, for certain, that Kendra would find a way to not only survive but actually, truly live.
That's some pretty strong stuff.
Kendra is the heart of this story, and that makes perfect sense since this is truly her story to tell. She stands out so strongly from the rest of the cast--and I want to be certain to point out this isn't a writing flaw--and I think that this was used to good effect to show a bit of the isolation she felt carrying around everything she was dealing with. I really liked Kendra. I found her very brave despite all she had been through.
The supporting cast was equally well done. The way that our perceptions of characters, while seeing them through Kendra's eyes, could shift was very clever. I particularly liked her therapist, Carolyn, her girlfriend Megan and her mentor / friend Sandy. I also thought that her shifting relationship with her parents, and the parallel between their need for things to look perfect and Kendra's need for the truth were both interesting layers. They definitely brought forth some memorable results.
I think that the relationship between Kendra and Megan was well handled. It played a valid and important role in the story, but it did not take the story over or become the central issue. Megan does not provide any sort of 'saving' to Kendra. She does, however, show something good and real and happy that makes it clear to the reader that Kendra can have good things in her life--including the love of a girlfriend--if she has the strength and courage to live each day and let her life move forward.
I don't read a ton of same-sex romance. This isn't so much an on-purpose slight as it is a seeming genre slight. I read a lot of Paranormal Romance and Urban Fantasy and it's just not common there. What I can say, as with when I read Will Grayson, Will Grayson, is that I had no trouble connecting with this couple and cheering them on. Their romance was sweet and well done, and both tied in with the main plot and allowed some breathing room from it at times. (While we are never totally free of Kendra's issues--and we shouldn't be here--the balance struck to keep the book readable by a diverse audience was handled well.)
I think Carolyn sums it up best in the book when she is talking with Kendra about Megan: "Love is love." I found this a bit ironic since it was actually something I had said when talking to my mother about readintg this and she was a bit puzzled about the couple. I smiled when I saw it.
Scars is an extremely well written novel. It is thought provoking, heart-wrenching and yet allows the reader to come away with a sense of hope. For anyone who has suffered abuse, felt criticized or misunderstood by loved ones, etc. this book can provide hope. For those who have not been there, it is the sort of book that can provide guidance, understanding and a path to empathy. I think this novel is extremely well done and would not hesitate to recommend it.
Scars is a recipient of...
1. A main character whom I wanted to see succeed: in learning the truth about her abuser, in finding ways to be happy, and in finding ways to (gradually) heal and live her life.
2. A strong set of secondary characters who felt compelling and real even though they were, at times, kept at length or shaded by Kendra's perceptions.
3. A compelling plot that kept me turning pages. I could not put Scars down.
4. A romance that was sweet and endearing, which did not undermine, trivialize or weaken the main focus of the novel.
5. A book that I believe may truly be able to help people. I had two friends who cut back when I was in high school. I wish I'd had something like this that might have helped me understand them better, and which might have guided me in how to be there for them rather then pretending I did not hear the conversation they were having at the sleepover we were at. Looking the other way isn't something that helped anyone.