{Review} BRUISED by Sarah Skilton

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O P E N I N G H O O K:


The cops have barricaded the diner--two blocks in all directons. Blood and worse coats my hair, my face, and my clothes, sticking to me like chunks of blackberry jam. They had to cut me out of my shirt, but since they can't cut me out of my skin, I don't see how I'll ever be clean.

(pg. 9, US e-book edition)

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.

C O V E R   D E S I G N:

This cover is what made me first notice BRUISED!  I'd never heard of the book until I noticed an ARC up on Netgalley. I believe I even did a Cover Crazy post on it.

I like the way the trophy is shattered into multiple pieces. It represents all that Imogen experiences in BRUISED.  If you lift up the dust jacket and take a peek underneath, you'll see a broken trophy there, too, which intrigued me.

I also like the way the "i" in bruised is situated in such a way, it almost looks like the trophy is bleeding.  It warrants a second look for sure!

O F F I C I A L   I N F O:

Author: Sarah Skilton
Release Date: March 5, 2013
Publisher: Amulet / Abrams
Received: For Review

Imogen has always believed that her black belt in Tae Kwon Do made her stronger than everyone else--more responsible, more capable. But when she witnesses a holdup in a diner, she freezes. The gunman is shot and killed by the police. And it’s all her fault. 

Now she’s got to rebuild her life without the talent that made her special and the beliefs that made her strong. If only she could prove herself in a fight--a real fight--she might be able to let go of the guilt and shock. She’s drawn to Ricky, another witness to the holdup, both romantically and because she believes he might be able to give her the fight she’s been waiting for. 

But when it comes down to it, a fight won’t answer Imogen’s big questions: What does it really mean to be stronger than other people? Is there such a thing as a fair fight? And can someone who’s beaten and bruised fall in love?

Debut author Skilton understands and respects martial arts, and she does a beautiful job presenting the philosophy that drives serious martial artists... Here is a writer to watch who handles complex issues with sensitivity in the vein of Deb Caletti and Sarah Dessen. Booklist Online 

Offering psychological drama and an introduction to martial-arts code of behavior, the book has a meaningful message about power, control, and the internal bruises carried by victims. ~ Publishers Weekly, starred review 

A useful exploration of the difference between fantasy-style omnipotence and the complexity of real-life human strength. ~ Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books.


  1. Great review. The quotes alone make me want to give this one a read. I did Tae Kwon Do in HS-but I only made it to a green belt.

    Thanks for sharing. Loving your sporty girl theme.


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