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Review: Scarred by Julia Hoban

scarred by julia hoban Review: Scarred by Julia Hoban

Blurb: Seven months ago on a rainy March night, Willows parents drank too much wine at dinner and asked her to drive them home. But they never made it Willow lost control of the car, and both of her parents were killed. Now seventeen, Willow is living with her older brother, who can barely speak to her. She has left behind her old home, friends, and school. But Willow has found a way to survive, to numb the new reality of her life: She is secretly cutting herself. And then she meets Guy, a boy as sensitive and complicated as she is. When Guy discovers Willows secret, he pulls her out of the solitary world shes created for herself, and into a difficult, intense, and potentially life-changing relationship.

Given this book's subject matter, I have to admit that it was with some sense of trepidation that I began reading. Self-harm is a very sensitive subject, and one that is surrounded by a sense of taboo: its rarely discussed in any meaningful or constructive way, and I was somewhat concerned that this book would aim to be an issues book 'that would use the issue of self-harm as a cheap means on which to hang an angsty and indulgent narrative.

Fortunately, I was completely wrong. Julia Hobans first novel,'Scarred (Willow in the USA) is a sympathetic portrayal of a young woman attempting to deal with the deep sense of loss and betrayal she feels following her parents death, a freak accident for which she blames herself. The narrative is painfully honest, a fact that is established immediately in the opening pages: we are introduced in an almost cruelly intimate manner to Willow as she struggles to hold herself together in class. If the novel were a film, it would be shot entirely in close-up: its disorienting and challenging, and Hoban never pans away when things threaten to become overwhelming.

A short read at only three hundred or so pages,'Scarred demonstrates a surprising depth and maturity. Despite initially seeming to be a novel about self-esteem and self-harm, it is far more than that: it is, rather, novel about the ways in which people cope with traumatic and devastating changes and challenges, and what it means to open up to someone emotionally, to make oneself vulnerable in doing so.

When we first meet Willow, she is slowly crumpling in on herself. She is torn between wanting to open up to her older brother, now her guardian, about their loss, and between attempting to trap her emotions deep within to avoid the pain of having to truly engage with them. Willows restrained, stilted relationship with her brother is beautifully rendered, and Hoban does an admirable job of contrasting the ways in which each deals with the grief of their parents deaths. Both sidestep the reality of it when around others, or even around each other, creating a veneer of normality and togetherness that crumbles when they are alone. Where Willow cuts herself, her brother spends his nights alone weeping. While the entire book is sensitively and thoughtfully written, the scene where Willow first realises that her brother's stoic attitude is simply a facade is especially moving: Willow watches from afar, yearning but afraid to comfort him, yearning but afraid to express her own vulnerability in such a manner.

A change is gradually wrought in both Willow and her brother as they are gradually swept up into relationships and situations that require them to become more open about their emotions, and to reach out in order to help deal with their situation. In Willow's case, it is Guy, a sweet and considerate young man who, upon seeing the evidence of the harm Willow has inflicted upon her body, is moved to befriend her. To Hoban's credit, the depiction of this relationship never falls into the simple cliche of the saviour-and-the-redeemed. In fact, the slowly blossoming romance between Willow and Guy that is perhaps the most beautiful element of this book, and it's immensely moving watching Willow slowly come to terms with the fact that she cannot hide behind the hard veneer she has created for herself forever. As she slowly grows more accepting of her feelings towards Guy, her relationship with her brother is transformed also, and while this is not necessarily a story of the 'redemptive power of love', we do see the significant effect that can be precipitated by engaging with one's feelings and emotions.

Highly recommended.

With thanks to Hachette Australia for the review copy.

200px 4 stars.svg  Review: Scarred by Julia Hoban

With thanks to Hachette Australia for the review copy.

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  1. Hi Stephanie!
    I also loved this book a lot. It opened my eyes to the world of cutters. I used to scoff at this problem but after reading this book, my attitude towards it changed.
    Willow recently posted..Entrecard said 'nay!' -

  2. Stephanie /

    Thanks for stopping by, Willow. Im so glad that Hoban dealt with this issue so thoughtfully and considerately. Its an issue that I never really understood myself, so Im glad to have been introduced to it in such a way.

  3. Savannah /

    I just got finished reading this book literally 10 minutes ago. This was an amazing book! I absolutely loved it! I didnt want to put it down, and didnt want it to end either! Good job, Julia Hoban!!!

    • Stephanie /

      Thanks for your lovely comment, Savannah. Its certainly not my usual type of read, but I found Hobans approach so very thoughtful and sensitive. Its a wonderful book, and I cant wait to see what she comes up with next. :)

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