To ease the extreme emotional pain, Kendra, a talented artist, draws. Her drawings evoke the sharp emotions she is experiencing. She has also begun cutting. She must keep all of this a secret. Her life depends on it.
Her mother has always been critical of Kendra and her art. She talks to Kendra but doesnt listen. Her father shows her more love and does listen, but he cannot be an outlet for her. The only person Kendra feels comfortable talking to is her therapist, Carolyn, who listens and is not judgmental. Yet through her therapy sessions she still has not been able to discover the identity of her abuser.
To make matters worse, Kendra has fallen for Meghan, a girl with a myriad of problems of her own.
No one can predict how he or she will react being a victim of sexual abuse or the parent of an abused child. The adults in Scars run the gamut from distance to understanding to love; from judgmental to non-judgmental. Every character in Scars is as real as I would imagine them to be. Kendras emotion turmoil is so believableher frustration at not being able to remember her abuser vs. her fear to remember him; her questioning her own sanity as she hears footsteps (or imagines she hears them) following her home from school. Kendras elation with Meghan is a great juxtaposition with her sadness at her situation.
The pace of the story jumps between fast as Kendra runs away from her stalker to slow as she and Meghan enjoy a nice summer afternoon in the park.
Told in the first person, Scars by Cheryl Rainfield grips you from the page one. It is a great companion book to Cut by Patricia McCormick, also a must read, reviewed on this website. I cannot recommend these books enough.
In the beginning, the mixture of thriller/mystery and recovering teen seemed to work well. You got the emotional connection with Kendra and the suspense all rolled into one neat package. It might have been a risky decision on the author’s part, but it seemed to work.
I also really liked the way Kendra was portrayed for the first half of the novel. Her need to cut seemed to be legitimate in its depiction, and it was defiitely very poignant and uncomfortable for me, the reader. She was a strong character and I did admire her.
What I Didn’t Like: First let me say that I have no experience with self-harm, and I cannot even begin to imagine how awful it must be to get to that point. However, from my limited experience, I do not think cutting is a good practice to engage in, for obvious reasons.
So that was why, when Kendra finally opened up to her therapist and shared that she had been cutting, I was so shocked by the therapist’s response. According to the therapist, cutting was a legitimate coping technique, and she merely cautioned Kendra to be sure to santize her blade and arm before doing it again.
Uh. Sorry, but if my daughter was engaging in self-harm, I would want her therapist to help her find alternative (and less dangerous) coping strategies, not agree that maybe cutting was her best option at this point in time.
And after that rather disturbing scene, the book really went downhill. The big reveal of Kendra’s rapist was overly-showy and dramatic (and not at all surprising), and then the glimpse of the aftermath, with Kendra now moved on with her life (but still cutting and without another coping technique to use) was very mellow and emotionless.
Verdict: I really did like Scars, and I did like Kendra and her story. The author mentions that this is autobiographical, so it could explain her defensive handling of cutting and self-harm. In any case, I do recommend this book, and I do think it was worth my time.
My main issue with Scars was how Kendra's struggle with her resurfacing memories of sexual abuse - and the resulting cutting - was almost overshadowed by the suspense and psychological thrill of her being stalked by her abuser. Scars is already dealing with so many different issues, that the addition of this outside element took away from everything happening on the inside. Instead of connecting with Kendra, of being able to empathize with her conflicting emotions over her resurfacing memories and the danger she felt that would come if she were able to remember her abuser, I was instead focused on her current danger, that of being stalked. I wasn't able to connect with her emotionally, because I was confused about whether she was repressing her memories because it was too painful to remember, or because she was worried about her abuser finding out that she remembered his face. It almost made Scars imply that if she wasn't being stalked, she wouldn't be suffering from the trauma of sexual abuse as she would feel safe. I just felt the amount of subjects being covered shifted the focus away from Kendra's struggle with her memories, her emotions and her relationships which made it hard for her struggles to truly resonate with me.
The relationships Kendra had with all of the supporting characters also failed to resonate with me. Sandy seemed to be strategically placed in her life as a source of doubt - could he be her abuser? I feel like his presence was meant merely as a distraction, so we weren't looking too closely for the real abuser. Her relationship with Meghan was forced and developed way too quickly, even though Meghan asked for them to take things slowly. I also kept waiting for Kendra to show some uncomfortableness with being intimate with someone, after the kind of abuse she experienced, and was slightly confused when she was able to completely separate the two kinds of interactions. I did like that the focus was on their relationship though, and not on their struggles with their sexuality - it was refreshing to see two female protagonists in a high school relationship who were more concerned over being with each other then with what their classmates would think. Her therapy sessions with Carolyn seemed unrealistic, as I found it hard to imagine a therapist would let so much of herself be exposed during a session with a patient.
As for Kendra's mom, she needs a section all on her own. I feel as though, as readers, we're thrown in to the middle of a very strained relationship that needs explaining, but none is truly given. Kendra does not trust her mother, not with her emotions or with her art, and blocks her at every turn. Her mother responds by guilting Kendra with tears and accusations that she's not trying hard enough. I assume that Kendra's mother is placing blame on herself, for letting the sexual abuse happen, and is taking it out on Kendra. I also assume that she is jealous of Kendra's ability to paint what she feels, and her response is to criticize Kendra's technique to make herself feel better. Lastly, I assume that Kendra's mother has a pile of issues that aren't related to Kendra, but that she's not sure how to deal with them so she fakes that things are ok. I assume all of this because I don't know - none of her behaviour is properly explained, which made for a detached reading experience. I couldn't relate to Kendra's problems with her mother, because I didn't understand how or why her mother would react so strongly to certain events.
I absolutely loved the scenes where Kendra was painting. The emotions she was feeling, while not transparent while reading Scars became crystal clear as I read about what she was creating. Kendra's pain and fear came alive through her artwork and I loved seeing that side of her - the side I had hoped to uncover while reading about her journey. It also helped me to understand her cutting - her painting was such a healthy way for her to release her emotions, to let out everything that was ready to burst. But sometimes, she didn't have access to her paint. Sometimes, the emotions that were ready to burst came upon her so suddenly and so strongly, that she didn't have time to get it down on paper. And when those feelings were too overwhelmingly strong, she turned to cutting. I do wish Carolyn had explained some of the coping mechanisms Kendra could use instead of cutting, but that was glazed over pretty quickly which was disappointing.
Actually, Scars' entire ending was glazed over pretty quickly. As Kendra finally remembers who her abuser is, and everything unfolds, we're suddenly left with a happy-go-lucky girl who has her whole life in front of her. She seems to have released any and all resentment for both her abuser and her parents, her art is selling and she has finally received her mother's approval for it, she's thriving in therapy and her relationship with Meghan is going strong. After everything this girl has gone through, I found the ending to be quite weak - especially considering who the abuser ended up being!
Ultimately, Scars was just an ok read for me. There were moments which truly stole my breath away - a couple scenes where Kendra was furiously painting, or suppressing the urge to cut - but they were pretty far and few between. I wish there had been more focus on her emotions over the abuse, and not the repercussions of remembering the abuse, and that her strained relationship with her mother had been better explained. I also wish the ending hadn't been so rushed, or painted so hopefully - not that I don't wish a survivor like Kendra happiness, but that a complete change in attitude so quickly seemed forced.
Fortunately, she finds a friend and support through Sandy, a friend of the family. Her therapist. Her art teacher. And, in Meghan, a girl who seems to understand Kendra in a way others do not. With a viable support network growing around her, Kendra is finally able to face and track down who is her abuser before it's too late. Likewise, she's finally able to stop cutting.
I couldn't stop reading this fast paced book once I began. It draws you in so completely and powerfully, you'll find yourself racing to the end to find out, along with Kendra, who's at the center of all the lies and carefully crafted secrets that allowed her abuser into a power position over her in the first place.
Currently, there are 40 million survivors of childhood sexual abuse in the USA alone. 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys. You are more likely to be a survivor of childhood sexual abuse before you turn 18 than being diagnosed with heart disease or diabetes. This hugely secret and shameful practice has been swept under the cultural carpet for far too long.
Survivors, their friends, and family should read this book to more fully understand how CSA affects the abused. They should also be inspired by the triumph Cheryl Rainfield's character, Kendra, discovers in herself as she faces her abuser and overcomes her abuse.
Kendra cannot remember the identity of her abuser. The stress she experiences through both vague memories of her abuse, and the stalking from her unknown perpetrator, cause her to cut to relieve the pain. When Meghan enters her life—originally to rescue her from bullying in the school hallway—Kendra experiences a glimmer of hope for her future. With Meghan and Carolyn at her side, the reader gets a sense of hope for Kendra’s eventual recovery. But it’s not an easy road ahead of her.
Rainfield skilfully keeps the reader on edge through the unfolding of this dark and realistic story of childhood sexual abuse. What really touched me the most about this story is the heartbreaking way Kendra occasionally suspected one of the most caring people in her life of being her abuser. Sandy, her mother’s homosexual friend, is always there for Kendra…always filled with love and understanding for her. But her struggle to remember the details of her abuse, and the face of the man behind it, means nobody in her life is above suspicion. Through her suspicion of Sandy, the reader gets a keen sense of the turmoil Kendra lives in.
Readers will become fully engrossed in this young adult novel. Rainfield has drawn such a paradoxically strong and broken character in Kendra that the reader will both fear and long for her memory to be recovered, for her life to be restored. They will feel Kendra’s urge to cut and they will experience temporary relief when she does, so powerful are Rainfield’s descriptions of the stress and pain that Kendra experiences. She writes Kendra’s helplessness and determination to reclaim her life with such painstaking accuracy that the reader cannot help but get totally engaged with this story. Though I thought I worked out who the abuser was early on in the story, I was still fully engrossed in discovering if I was right and how exactly the story would play out. Rainfield delivered a satisfying ending, worthy of the build-up created by Kendra’s journey of pain.
Scars is an important book. It’s a brave look into the wasteland that is left behind when our children are sexually molested. It’s a book of truth, pain and hope. Rainfield turns a spotlight on a topic that needs to be brought into the open. And she does it in a no-holds-barred way, offering up a true look into the horrible reality that too many children face.
Expectation was met and exceeded. I wasn't sure how such a difficult topic could be tackled, but Cheryl Rainfield did it with an exactitude of excellence.