Tuesday, June 8, 2010
'Scarred' by Julia HOBAN
From the BLURB:
Seven months ago on a rainy March night, Willow's parents drank too much wine at dinner and asked her to drive them home. But they never made it - Willow lost control of the car, and both of her parents were killed. Now seventeen, Willow is living with her older brother, who can barely speak to her. She has left behind her old home, friends, and school. But Willow has found a way to survive, to numb the new reality of her life: She is secretly cutting herself. And then she meets Guy, a boy as sensitive and complicated as she is. When Guy discovers Willow's secret, he pulls her out of the solitary world she's created for herself, and into a difficult, intense, and potentially life-changing relationship.
It’s risky for an adult author to write a YA book about teen disorders. There’s always the potential for the author to write the teen’s problem (drinking, drugs, anorexia etc) with all the flair of a public service announcement. They may treat the ‘issues’ with kid gloves and a PG-13 rating, reverting to happy endings and moral messages. And that does not work. In those instances, the book may be read and praised by parents who are so happy that someone is addressing these serious issues... but the YA readership are more likely to sneer and dread the possibility of said book appearing on their school syllabus.
That’s not the case with Julia Hoban’s book, ‘Scarred’ (called ‘Willow’ in the US and UK).
The book is about ‘cutting’, the act by which someone repeatedly cuts into their flesh – not necessarily with the intention of committing suicide, but to revel in the pain/pleasure the act itself brings (or in the secrecy). Julia Hoban digs into the psyche of a ‘cutter’ through the character of seventeen-year-old Willow. Seven months ago Willow’s parents died in a car accident in which Willow was the driver. Willow thinks her parent’s death was her fault, but no one is talking or blaming. She lives with her brother and his wife, but they haven’t mentioned the accident for seven months now. So Willow is left to assume that everyone thinks of her as a killer, that they all blame and hate her – as much as she hates herself.
Willow is a tragic character of Cassandra-like proportions. She’s just a kid who has been dealt a bad lot in life, and is utterly unequipped to deal with the fallout of disaster. Willow lives day-to-day utterly sure that everyone is condemning her and calling her ‘Killer’ behind her back. She’s paranoid and grieving and I had endless sympathy for her.
To cope with her suffocating guilt and grief, Willow cuts herself. In the opening chapter she declares that slicing a blade into her skin is ‘better than mother’s milk’. She doesn’t want to commit suicide (if for no other reason than she doesn’t want to upset her brother any more than her parent’s death already has) but she revels in cutting. It’s something she can control when everything else is slipping away.
But one day Willow slips up. She lets a boy from school, Guy, see her scars and know her dirtiest secret;
“Hey!” His voice is panicked. Willow knows she should get out of there, but she’s rooted to the spot. Her mind is racing furiously. But she can’t think of anything to say, she can’t think of any way to guarantee his silence.
“Hey!” Guy says once again. He rips up her sleeve and stares at her arm. Willow turns beet red. She couldn’t feel more exposed if she were standing naked and he was staring at her breasts. She can feel his eyes as they drink in the terrible sight, the old scars and the fresh scabs, the bleeding flesh and the puckered ugly wounds.
From there ‘Scarred’ becomes a love story, as Guy tries to navigate Willow’s fractured psyche and pull her out of her self-imposed cutting prison.
I loved the fact that ‘Scarred’ is, at its heart, a love story. It’s not the usual route a book about ‘teen issues’ takes – normally authors are very concerned about getting a moral message across, and having their damaged teens ‘find themselves’, ‘save themselves’ and ‘learn about themselves’. But that’s not always realistic – in real life struggling teens don’t always have a self-contained ‘light bulb’ moment and decide, independently, to seek help. In ‘Scarred’ it’s because of Guy that Willow is able, and willing, to go on the path to recovery. That’s far more understandable and believable, especially because Willow had been working on the assumption that everyone hated her as much as she hated herself. It took Guy for Willow to realize that she had someone in her corner, that she wasn’t alone and she was loved.
And really, Guy is the perfect sort of boy to play ‘white knight’ to a drowning girl. He’s smart, thoughtful, kind and a little bit impish. He was a perfect complement to Willow, not only because he was patient about her recovery, but because he could see beyond her current problems to the girl she could be, and once was. Brilliant.
I was really quite in awe of this book, and Julia Hoban’s infinite tenderness and edginess. She delved and dug into Willow’s cutting motivations to create a very likable damaged damsel. ‘Scarred’ could have been dragging and preachy; but Hoban’s writing is so lyrical in parts, and Willow and Guy’s romance so endearing that I genuinely enjoyed reading about an uncomfortable teen 'issue'.