Everyone has scars. Some are just easier to see…
16-year-old Ava Gardener is heading back to school one year after a house fire left her severely disfigured. She’s used to the names, the stares, the discomfort, but there’s one name she hates most of all: Survivor. What do you call someone who didn’t mean to survive? Who sometimes wishes she hadn’t?
When she meets a fellow survivor named Piper at therapy, Ava begins to feel like she’s not facing the nightmare alone. Piper helps Ava reclaim the pieces of Ava Before the Fire, a normal girl who kissed boys and sang on stage. But Piper is fighting her own battle for survival, and when Ava almost loses her best friend, she must decide if the new normal she’s chasing has more to do with the girl in the glass—or the people by her side.
The beautiful, life-affirming debut from Erin Stewart that’s being called the YA answer to Wonder. Perfect for fans of Jandy Nelson, Nicola Yoon and John Green.
The first thing that you should know about this book is that you WILL need tissues. My eyes were perpetually brimming over with tears throughout and I don’t normally consider myself a watering pot! However the story itself isn’t morose and angst-ridden (thank goodness), it’s life-affirming, heartwarming and, as much as our protagonist would hate me saying this, inspirational. But the fact remains that seeing the world through Ava’s eyes in the aftermath of suffering horrific burns from the fire that killed her family is no walk in the park.
It’s impressive how convincingly the author writes from the perspective of a burn survivor and you can tell how much painstaking research went into this book; it’s conveyed effortlessly with all the little details about Ava’s physical condition and recovery routine incorporated in a natural manner that never feels like lecturing or an info-dump. More importantly, Ava feels like a real teenage girl, not just the sum of her scars, she’s a believable teen who is withdrawn, sarcastic and self-deprecating as a way of coping with horrific tragedy.
Ava is also an incredibly funny narrator and I found her endearing right from the start with her snarky inner commentary and wry quips. Her story is heart-wrenching and her struggle to deal with the loss of her loved ones and the pain of her recovery frequently made me tear up, but far from being a grim, heavy slog to get through, the book has a wickedly dark sense of humor and just as frequently made me cackle at Ava’s observations and sassy banter.
This isn’t a plot-heavy book and the focus is more on Ava’s emotional recovery, which may leave some readers antsy for a bit more action, but suited me perfectly. Ava starts off feeling like she’s alone and that she doesn’t matter enough to people anymore now that she has her scars, but this is the story of her learning to take her place in the world again, to overcome her fear of being rejected and put herself out there to accept love from those around her.
It could easily have been generic, but because of Ava’s exceptional circumstances, every setback is magnified a hundredfold and every minor disappointment has the potential to lead to a breakdown as it adds to the already heavy burden on her fragile shoulders. I wouldn’t have much sympathy to spare for a regular teenage protagonist worrying about a pimple making them unappealing to their crush, but Ava has to deal with heavy scarring, skin grafts and what a mean girl refers to as her ‘Freddy Krueger’ face making little kids scream in horror. I was very much invested in her journey to establishing a ‘new normal’ and hoping that she could find happiness once more, and while those aren’t very high stakes, it made for a cozy, comforting and cathartic read.
The supporting characters in Ava’s life are very well-written, having their own share of strengths, flaws and unknown motivations. I love the recurring theme that there is always more going on beneath the surface than we realize and you can never take anything at face value. This certainly applies to Piper, a fellow burn survivor who becomes Ava’s best friend. She might seem like the platonic version of the ‘Manic Pixie Dream Girl’ who is here to motivate Ava and turn her life around, but Piper is given much more depth and nuance than that. Her friendship with Ava is the highlight of this book, I loved that they bonded over their mutual trauma and could laugh at themselves and feel relatively normal with someone else who understood what it was like living in their shoes. Of course they also had their moments of conflict and tension, with passive-aggressiveness and ugly words being exchanged, but fighting with friends is just another part of life. Honorable mention goes to Asad who is a nerdy Pakistani theater geek that also befriends Ava when she needs it most.
For an engrossing and emotional read that highlights the importance of healing and not isolating yourself from life after a trauma, of owning your scars but not letting them define you and of looking beyond the physical to the person within, I highly recommend picking this up. Ava’s journey is very relatable even to those who don’t suffer chronic pain or disability and there are messages everyone can appreciate about self-acceptance and finding the courage to be yourself.
Personal Rating: 4 out of 5 kitties recommend this book.
About the author:
Erin Stewart is a freelance writer/editor, as well as a weekly columnist in Salt Lake City and a member of SCBWI. An earlier draft of Scars Like Wings won the grand prize at 2016 LDS Storymakers conference. Scars Like Wings is her debut novel.
Check out other posts from the tour!
You can follow along on the ‘Scars Like Wings’ tour with the help of this schedule and I’ve linked to current posts from my fellow bloggers below!
Disclaimer: Physical copy provided by publisher free for an unbiased review. All thoughts and opinions are my own.