Monday, August 12, 2013

Bruised by Sarah Skilton

Sarah Skilton's debut novel, Bruised is a gritty story about a young girl trying to recover both her identity and her life after a terrifying robbery. Sixteen year old Imogen Malley is in a diner one night at the beginning of her junior year, when the eatery is robbed. The gunman who goes directly for the cashier, doesn't see her sitting in the corner. Quietly Imogen slips underneath a table where she notices a guy also hiding under another table. Paralyzed by fear and completely terrified,  Imogen stares at this boy. The robbery turns violent when police confront the robber who has a handgun and kill him. Imogen is taken from the scene covered in blood and brains and very traumatized.

From this point on, Imogen's life begins a slow spiral downwards. She is unable to cope with the fact that she did nothing to save the robber from being shot by police or to stop the robbery when it began. Imogen feels responsible because she has a black belt in Tae Kwon Do. She has spent the past six years working towards her black belt, and is Grandmaster Huan's star pupil. But to Imogen, all her black belt training was useless when the robbery went down. All she did was hide. She froze.

This leads Imogen to question the purpose of her martial arts training and to question who she is; it's an identity crisis of colossal proportions. In martial arts demos she has been controlled and confident - the very opposite of how she felt during the robbery. When she reflects back on a successful demo she did at her high school, Imogen wonders,
"And now a month later, I'm not even sure who that girl was -- that girl who stood up in front of her classmates and pretended to know how to fight."
Imogen returns to school, but doesn't go back to her Tae Kwon Do Club because she feels ashamed of freezing during the robbery and because she doubts what she has been taught there. She is taunted at school and begins to suffer from nightmares. Imogen experiences many symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder; she is unable to feel anything, goes through the motions of her daily life and deliberately pushes away those who care about her. Imogen wants to find the boy who was in the diner with her because she feels he will be the one person who understands what she is experiencing. Fortunately, ten days after the robbery, Imogen is called to talk to the school counselor along with Ricky Alvarez, who turns out to be the boy from the diner. However, the two get off to a bad start when Imogen misunderstands Ricky's nervous laugh over her black belt status and punches him in the face.

As a result, Imogen is suspended from her Tae Kwon Do Club for breaking the honor code as well as from school. Surprisingly Ricky forgives Imogen and asks her to teach him how to fight. They meet in her garage every day after school so that Imogen can teach him the basics of Tae Kwon Do. Imogen's motive for teaching Ricky is that she hopes to fight him to prove that her martial arts training was real. Gradually their friendship begins to blossom into more and they try to date. However, their relationship is complicated by the fact that both are suffering from post traumatic stress disorder, although each is processing what happened to them very differently.

At the same time Imogen is trying to deal with other personal problems, one involving her brother, Hunter, who is causing her to lose all her girlfriends by his sleeping with them and then dumping them and her father who has become wheelchair-bound due to diabetes. She hates Hunter for what he has done and she has lost respect for her father whom she always admired for his strength and perseverance.

Will Imogen ever be able to break free of that fateful night at the diner? Will she be able to come to terms with what happened that night and pick up her life again?

Bruised is well written novel that touches on many different issues. The author who herself has a black belt in Tae Kwon Do, knows her subject and therefore has been able to craft a story that is both authentic and meaningful. Many issues are touched on in this novel including the meaning of friendship, forgiveness and redemption, personal responsibility and accountability, bullying and arrogance vs humility.

Skilton has created an realistic protagonist in Imogen,who struggles throughout most of the novel, but in the end begins to grow and mature. Imogen comes to understand that the martial arts skills she developed made her arrogant and cocky and that sometimes, as at her school marital arts demo, she did not have the "proper Tae Kwon Do spirit". She recognizes that she needs to learn humility. To that end, Imogen makes several decisions near the end of the novel to help her work towards this. Most importantly, Imogen also comes to understand who was responsible for what happened that night in the diner.

Ricky is also a believable well-developed character who cares about Imogen and wants her to feel safe. Ricky's PTSD symptoms are different than Imogen's highlighting how traumatic events affect everyone differently. Hunter is a very disagreeable character who manages to redeem himself in the end.

Even the families of Ricky and Imogen, although very different, are well cast, allowing the reader to get a real sense of the families and the dynamics the two main characters must live within.

Overall, Bruised is a very good novel, with a great hook to draw readers in quickly, a likeable protagonist and lots of well paced action to keep the story moving along.

Book Details:
Bruised by Sarah Skilton
New York: Amulet Books    2013
274 pp.

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