Book received at ALA June 2010
I saw this on Lee's blog back in April. It took my library months to get it in, and I finally got it through the library right before ALA...where I stumbled across Cheryl signing copies in the exhibits! Not that I need more books in my apartment, you know, but it's always nice to have a personalized copy to add to my collection.
Growing up, Kendra was sexually abused in a horrific manner - so horrific, she completely blocked the memory of it until six months ago. Even now, after extensive therapy, she can't bring herself to remember the man who did these terrible things to her. To cope, she has thrown herself into her art, creating dark and emotional works that stand in stark contrast to the controlled and pretty landscapes her mother paints. Less healthfully, she has also turned to self harm, cutting herself up and down her arms as a way to control the pain and fear that well up inside of her.
Now, years after the end of the abuse, her abuser is back on the scene, stalking Kendra, leaving her threatening notes in her backpack warning that he will kill her if she tells anyone. Kendra reports this to her therapist, but finds there's no one else she can trust, especially since she doesn't know who he is - or how he's getting so close to her now.
The one highlight in Kendra's life is her budding relationship with Meghan. Meghan saves Kendra from one of the school bullies one day, and Kendra latches on, hoping at first just for a friend before finding that her feelings are growing deeper. Luckily, despite her reputation with the boys, Meghan returns Kendra's feelings.
The stakes for Kendra rise as trouble hits her family. Her father is in danger of losing his job, meaning Kendra may have to change schools, and even stop seeing her therapist, the only person keeping her from actually killing herself. Life has, perhaps, never been darker for Kendra, as her parents threaten to rip all of her supports out from under her. If she can only figure out who hurt her, and is stalking her again, she can find some peace.
I have to admit, part of what drew me in to this book, is the stark and rather disturbing cover. It's the sort of cover that catches people's eye, and then makes them do a double take - this is a side effect of all of that reading in public I do. It's not bright and flashy, but I think it's the one smooth and one horrifically scarred arm that draws me in. It almost looks like a horror movie poster.
And Kendra's life is like something out of a horror movie at times. The novel opens with her telling her therapist that she's being stalked, and I love that it's impossible to tell for awhile whether it's true or if Kendra is paranoid with the sort of unstable personality that could make something like this up. Kendra acknowledges that it sounds crazy, but remains convinced.
The descriptions of Kendra's abuse, both as a child and the harm she self-inflicts, are absolutely brutal. If you're squeamish about depictions of abuse, this might not be the book for you.
In some ways, this felt like a novel of extremes, with a lot of stuff crammed in. Occasionally it stretched credulity, for example there's a big stand off at the end that seemed to come out of nowhere. Also, very briefly at the end, and again in Rainfield's author's note, there's a mention of "ritual abuse," which both Kendra and Rainfield were subjected to, however there's no further explanation. There are support resources in the extensive readers' resource guide related to ritual abuse, which certainly have a place in a book such as this, but it felt like a rather random tidbit to be dropped in during the closing pages of the novel.
Kendra's relationship with Meghan is delightfully a non-issue in the story. Kendra has enough to agonize about without adding sexual orientation to the list, though her parents have some hand wringing over whether she's really a lesbian or if she's just reacting against the abuse. While I felt their relationship developed extremely fast (which happens to lots of plot points across the novel), Meghan's unquestioning support is a beautiful counterpoint to Kendra's parents.