Genre: YA Contemporary Fiction
Publisher: Amulet Books
Release date: March 5 2013
Source: ARC won in contest
“You’re bruised,” he says. “It means you’re alive. The body can’t bruise once the heart stops beating.”
Sometimes a book comes along at just the right time and resonates in just the right way. Bruised was that book for me. It could be that I needed a break from all the paranormal stories I’ve been reading, and I have to admit it was a nice change of pace to read a contemporary novel. But no matter what your usual reading fare is, Bruised is sure to trigger some type of emotion, because it’s so well written and perfectly paced. I absolutely loved the character of Imogen; I found her to be one of the most real and natural teenage protagonists I’ve come across in quite some time. Her story is unique, but I’m betting many readers will empathize with her situation nonetheless.
Imogen is a sixteen-year-old with a black belt in Tae Kwon Do. The past six years of her life have been dedicated to immersing herself in martial arts and adhering to the rules set forth by Grandmaster Huan, her teacher. But one night as she and a friend are about to leave a diner, a man with a gun tries to rob the place. Instead of using her martial arts skills to stop the holdup, Imogen hides under a table. From her spot on the ground, she sees a boy across the way, also hiding. The next thing she knows, she’s at the police station, covered in blood. No matter how hard she tries, she can’t remember the events of the shooting. But even worse, she blames herself for the gunman’s death, for not being able to use her fighting skills when it really mattered.
One day at school she is called in to see the school counselor, and she meets the mysterious boy from the diner, a boy named Ricky who sets her heart fluttering. Ricky and Imogen attend counseling sessions together to overcome the stress of the shooting, getting to know each other better in the process. The rest of the story involves Imogen’s slow emergence from self-blame to accepting the things in life she can’t control.
This book isn’t really about the plot. I pretty much gave you a wrap up of the story in the last two paragraphs. So why did I love it so much? I loved it because this is a story about relationships and how they can hurt us, help us, and define us. Even before the shooting, Imogen is having problems with many of the people in her life. Her girlfriends are dropping her because they are interested in dating her older brother, Hunter. Her brother is stealing her friends by sleeping with them. And her father is in a wheelchair after being diagnosed with diabetes. Everything is changing, and Imogen is having trouble dealing. Everything except Tae Kwon Do, the one thing in her life that feels steady and comforting. But after the shooting, she realizes that even her well-honed fighting skills have failed her, and she doesn’t know how to come back from the shock of the experience.
There’s a line in the book about building up your muscles, and that the only way to make them stronger is to tear them down first. Skilton uses this as a metaphor as Imogen comes to grips with the tragedy and what her life means now that she’s questioning everything she believes in. Her emotional turmoil is written in such a believable way, and her interactions with Ricky, her family and her friends seem honest and true to life. Poor Imogen is going through a lot, and it’s no wonder she nearly has a mental breakdown. In addition to the drama surrounding the shooting, she’s also dealing with normal teenage stuff: her first kiss, trying to keep her grades up at school, and how to handle it when a friend moves away. I loved Ricky’s character, too, and his interactions with Imogen are especially well done. Yes, there is a bit of romance, but it’s not the focus of the story. Imogen and Ricky are attracted to each other, but they also have some obstacles to get past before their happy ending. More than once, Ricky and Imogen trade actual blows, which may turn some readers off. But I thought these scenes were important in not only propelling the story forward, but giving us a glimpse into Imogen’s inner turmoil.
The author uses color as a theme throughout the book, and I loved the way she accomplished this. She starts out by describing the different belt colors of Tae Kwon Do and their importance in Imogen’s life. Then she has Imogen compare herself to her brother:
We have similar features, but they came out wrong on me, like secondhand clothes. If his short, curly hair is a buttery-golden sunflower, my straight, thick tresses are the color of dandelions—nourished with acid rain. If his eyes are the clear aquamarine of a thirst-quenching mirage, mine are a dry, hazel-colored chalk and the boring sidewalk beneath it.
This gorgeous writing continues up to the end, when she cleverly brings color back to wrap things up.
So what did happen that night at the diner? Imogen does eventually recover her memories, but it takes time and the help of friends and family, including some wise advice from Grandmaster Huan. The details of the shooting are not nearly as important as Imogen’s journey toward healing and self-discovery. Her story will stay with you long after you’ve read the final page, and if you’re anything like me, you’ll be dying to read Sarah Skilton’s next book.