Scars by Cheryl Rainfield

West Side Books, 2010

I can’t say enough good things about this book.  Scars is an intense story about fifteen-year-old Kendra whose repressed memories of sexual abuse started resurfacing six months prior to the action in the novel.  She cuts herself as a way to cope with the emotional pain.

I don’t read much young adult fiction, but after I came across this book on Lee Wind’s blog I’m Here. I’m Queer. What the Hell do I Read? I couldn’t get it out of my mind.
Scars is a powerful book, and not for the faint of heart.  Its a harsh story about harsh issues.  It is also a beautiful, hope-filled story about the courage to face the truth and the strength to embrace the beauty and love that often flutters around the edge of despair.  Even the cover art is intense. I imagine it will attract those who need this story and repel those who aren’t ready to explore the issue or those who are not interested.

In contrast to her mother who paints perfectly controlled landscapes, Kendra’s art is an expression of her hopes and fears, which her mother criticizes as being too raw.  But Kendra knows that “Art is like a printout of my soul, showing all the things I can’t say” (56).  Her self-knowledge is reaffirmed by Mrs. Archer, the compassionate and supportive art teacher, who tells Kendra, “I think you’ve got to get out whatever’s hurting you through your art, so it doesn’t twist you up inside” (113).

Kendra is also a lesbian and it was refreshing to find no excuses or justifications within the story for her orientation.  There is an adult gay male character, Sandy, who is Kendra’s mom’s longtime friend.  Sandy is a healthy male and artistic role model for Kendra.  His home has often been a safe haven for her.

Other than her art, the one highlight in Kendra’s life is her new friendship with and attraction to Meghan. Early in the book Meghan rescues Kendra from one of the school bullies and then they end up in an art therapy class together.  Kendra and Meghan are both wounded girls trying to survive in their own ways.  Whereas Kendra cuts herself, Meghan is a beautiful, tough girl who sleeps with guys initially hoping that her feelings for other girls will go away.  Now she does it as a way to try to feel something, but it just keeps her numb. Her mom is a physically abusive alcoholic.

As they’re waiting for the art therapy class to begin, Kendra mentions that her mom is a painter and Meghan asks what she paints.  Kendra replies, “Landscapes. Scenery. Pretty pictures of cows in meadows with buttercups.”  Meghan snorts and replies, “Like we need more lies telling us how perfect life is. I tell ya, what we need to see is the real stuff, stuff that shows what people usually hide. Maybe if somebody painted that, then we wouldn’t all feel so alone” (60). 
Cheryl Rainfield has painted the real stuff with this book.  I commend her for sharing her experience and baring her soul in writing it.  I hope it gets into the hands of young people who may need it now or people who are recovering from abuse.  It would also be a helpful book for parents, teachers, counselors, and friends to read in order to help them understand the feelings and compulsion behind self-harm.  Just stopping the behavior isn’t the point.  As Kendra’s therapist Carolyn says to her parents: 
“Self injury shows the depth of pain and turmoil someone is feeling. Now, I know you’ll want her to stop hurting herself right away. But a more realistic hope is that Kendra will learn some new coping skills, and, in time, find the tools and strategies she needs to safely express her emotions instead of cutting” (185).

Rainfield provides an 11-page Resource Guide for Readers at the back of the book that’s full of websites, hotlines, and books about abuse and self-harm that may help folks find some of these tools and strategies.  She also has some articles for survivors of abuse on her website which you can read here.

I’m not surprised that the book is getting some award nominations.  Rainfield announced on her website that it was recently nominated for the American Library Association’s Quick Picks and Stonewall awards.  A percentage of the profits from Scars will go to the Toronto Rape Crisis Centre/Multicultural Women Against Rape and the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN).


  1. Wow, thank you for sharing this book. It is exciting that there is now a young adult book on the subject. This is a powerful subject that has gotten very little attention or recognition, hopefully this book will help shine a light on a very serious problem.

  2. My reaction was so like yours. Scars continues to stay with me and I find myself comparing other realistic YA to it. The cover is stark, but it is perfectly suited to Kendra's art: bringing the 'raw' out into the open. This IS a book that will stay with you a long time. You might also enjoy Crossing by Andrew Xia Fukuda. Here is our book talk @ the Reading Tub.

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