Thursday, December 1, 2011

REVIEW: Scars

Rainfield, C.  (2010).  Scars.  Lodi, NJ:  WestSide Books.

233 pages.


Appetizer:  Kendra knows she is being followed.  She thinks the man who molested her as a child is back and is trying to keep her silent.  The only person she can really trust to talk to is her therapist, Carolyn.  But since her dad was downsized at work, her parents want her to stop seeing Carolyn.  In fact, they're even talking about moving out of the city.  Kendra's mom just doesn't get what she's going through or what matters to Kendra.  The only ways that Kendra can deal with all of the pains and pressures are by cutting herself and by working on her art.

Despite all of these difficulties, a girl named Meghan has caught her eye.  Meghan has her own problems.  When the two girls are enrolled in the same art therapy course, Kendra begins to see the possibility of finding someone who can love her.

While I appreciated that Scars didn't feel like a traditional problem novel due to all of the thriller elements, some of those same thriller elements made Kendra's high school experience seem overly dramatic.  (Arguably, this could be because Kendra survived serious trauma, so little conflicts could seem much more threatening.  But as I read, it felt more like a representation of high school that I would have only bought into in middle school...you know, before I knew what high school was like.  For example, on the first day that the novel depicts, Kendra is bullied, kissed, and checked-out by completely random characters.  Also, sometime the dialogue seemed forced cliche or as though a modern teenager wasn't saying the word.  I just didn't believe it.  Not based on the narration and how Kendra described herself.  I do appreciate what the author was aiming for though.)


A huge aspect that I thought was missing from the book was a scene in which Kendra revealed her childhood molestation to her family. The book is set six months after she would have had that discussion with her parents and is only mentioned in peripheral ways. But imagining how difficult such a reveal may be and knowing that some readers may share similar experiences to Kendra, but have yet to speak about it, I really wanted to see a scene with Kendra speaking/writing/drawing about it with or for someone for the first time. I know it's beyond the scope of the story and I know that such a scene would probably make the story a little too reminiscent of Laurie Halse Anderson's masterpiece Speak, (both would feature artistic girls who struggle to find a way to tell someone about the traumas they have experienced--although the individual characterizations are completely different). But still, I wanted that scene. Flashback anyone?

I also wanted it to be clearer from the beginning whether or not Kendra had told her family and classmates that she was a lesbian.  From her narration, it's a clear aspect of her internal characterization, but I couldn't tell for over half the book whether she was firmly "in the closet" or open with her parents and classmates.  (I wanted to know because, again, coming out and revealing this is an important experience and instead it was treated as a part of the mystery that is revealed late in the novel about Kendra's background.

It is also worth noting that the person who molested Kendra as a child and who continues to harass her to try to keep her silent as a teen is pretty much...pure evil.  Like, maybe more evil than Lord Voldemort.  It's not as though I want a fair and balanced account.  But he was evil to the point that I struggled to believe his level of vileness was possible.  The ways he abused and the extent to which he manipulated Kendra as a child was overwhelming.

One of the greatest strengths of Scars was the author's note. In it, Cheryl Rainfield reveals that she has felt similar pains to her character Kendra. She provides one of the most etensive list of resources for help and support that I have seen at the end of a YA novel. And she advises the reader to "be gentle with yourself," a similar idea that some of the helpful adult characters express to Kendra. I found that to be a beautifully said and a wonderful sentiment.


Dinner Conversation:

"'Someone is following me.'  I gulp air, trying to breathe.
Carolyn leans forward, her face worried.  "What makes you say that?"  There's a hesitation in her voice that stings me.
"You don't believe me!"  I spit the words out at her, then look away, twisting my hands together to keep them from trembling.
"I didn't say that.  I don't know enough about this yet to know what to believe.  Why don't you tell me about it?"
So you can go tell my parents?  (p. 7).

"Do you have any idea of who it might be?" Carolyn's voice is soft, like she knows I want to run.
A door snapping shut.  His hand on my wrist.
"It's....him."
"The man who molested you?"
"Yes." I wince and clench my trembling hands in my lap, digging my nails into my palms.  But the trifling pain isn't enough to distract me.
"It must be terrifying for you to think he's out there somewhere."
"It is," I whisper.
"But Kendra, pedophiles don't usually come after their victims, especially not years later.  They like easy access and frightened, compliant children who they can manipulate--not active teen girls who might fight back." (p. 9)

"The constant noise makes me want to scream--people slamming their lockers shut, girls giggling with each other, sneakers squeaking down the hall, boys burping as loud as they can--but I know I'm only feeling like this because of the note.
And I can't let myself think about that.
My arm is hot and stiff, every jostle sending pain through me.  But it's not the bright, hard pain that makes everything go away.  It's an annoying, irritating pain that makes me grit my teeth.  I wish I could tear my nails through my flesh like blades.  I don't know if I can go through the whole day without finding a way to cut."  (p. 19)

"Mom's paintings are picturesque views of the world, little postcards of happiness, while mine are all emotion and color.  Mine tap into my pain and grief and sometimes into my happiness, but always into something that comes from deep inside.  No boats in the harbor or sunlit meadows for me.  I do my art because I have to.  Paint or cut--they both help me survive.  But Mom paints for the money--and her art sells.  People want those perfect postcards of the world.  I don't think they want messy emotion.  But I have to try."  (p. 44)


Tasty Rating:  !!!

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