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I learned so much about martial arts when reading BRUISED. For example, did you know that Tae Kwon Do originated in Korea? There wasn't even a colored belt system in place until the Koreans brought Tae Kwon Do to the USA, where people wanted to physically see a measure of their success. In Korea, you are a white belt until you are good enough to receive black. Here, there are colored belts, and when you finally achieve a black belt, there are twelve levels of black! Some levels take a decade to master. I learned all of this and more when reading BRUISED.
Imogen is the youngest black belt at Glenview Martial Arts. She's still a teenager. She's taught several Tae Kwon Do classes and knows how to defend herself. At least, she thought she did. When a gunman holds up a diner, rather than fight, Imogen hides beneath a table. She feels ashamed and guilty. What's the point of learning Tae Kwon Do if you can't protect yourself when the time comes? Imogen disconnects and experiences extreme Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Therapy doesn't stop her daily nightmares. She beats herself up over and over. Not even connecting with Ricky, a guy who also hid in the diner that night, is able to help her overcome her fears and guilt. Why should she be allowed to be happy when she messed everything up so badly?
Imogen is really hard on herself, striving to achieve the impossible. She's a talented martial artist, and before the incident, had clear goals. She loved teaching Tae Kwon Do, especially to girls. At one point, she states,
"[Taylor] had trouble with blocks and counterstrikes because she didn't like getting in other people's space, especially boys' space. Most girls don't, and I wanted to change that."
(pg. 17, US e-book edition)
But after the incident, she believes otherwise. If she can't protect herself, how can she teach other girls to protect themselves? She begins teaching Tae Kwon Do to Ricky, but she's gearing up for a fight, one where she can prove what she knows. Imogen and Ricky experience so many extreme emotions and fears after their near-death experience. The psychological effects are enormous, but both feel safer when they're together. They overcame the odds once and they can do it again. It's nice to see a book where emotions from one another are due to character interactions more than an instant attraction. When Imogen and Ricky meet again for the first time after the incident, Imogen observes,
"Some acne scars dot his cheeks and forehead, but they just make him more beautiful, because he's real, he's so wonderfully real, and he's the only one who'll ever understand. I'll be under that table, on some level, for the rest of my life, but so will he."
(pg. 49, US e-book edition)
It was nice to see that Ricky could be both attractive and imperfect. I appreciated the way Skilton slipped this into the narrative. It made Ricky more human and down-to-earth than many of the other YA love interests out there. I always love seeing scars, freckles, etc. on characters, because that's real.
I was also a fan of the way both Imogen and Ricky have strong family support to fall back on. Ricky has his mother, but he relies more on his always-present abuelita. Imogen has support, too, but she doesn't take it. She's felt estranged from her father ever since he was diagnosed with diabetes and confined to a wheelchair. He's no longer the man she knew, and she's having trouble coping with the way he lives his life. Her mom isn't touchy-feely, and Imogen resents that she always looked away when watching Imogen do martial arts. And her brother...don't get her started on her brother. Despite the fact that he always helps her through her nightmares, she can't help but stew over the way he has dated too many of her friends over the years. She's down to three good friends, and it's all his fault. Over the course of the book, Imogen is able to look deeper and see just how much her family genuinely cares. I really liked seeing all of the family interactions in BRUISED. There's a scene where Imogen talks about the unique way her family makes cookies that's intimate and brought a smile to my face. Despite their struggles, this damaged family genuinely loves one another.
There's a lot going on in BRUISED, but I enjoyed the journey, and really appreciated the way Skilton reflected realistically on the emotional turmoil of PTSD and the way a moment can utterly define or change a person. Imogen is forced to reflect on herself, both now, and in the past. She achieved success young, and never realized the extent of the arrogance that comes from always being the best. Her quest for perfection damages her in ways that are hard to overcome, and her path toward being able to move on and be successful again is a rocky, emotional one.