SCARS LIKE WINGS
By: Erin Stewart
Published By: Delacorte
Release Date: October 3, 2019
Reading Level: Young Adult
Buy the Book: Amazon
Goodreads Summary: Ava Lee has lost everything there is to lose: Her parents. Her best friend. Her home. Even her face. She doesn't need a mirror to know what she looks like--she can see her reflection in the eyes of everyone around her.
A year after the fire that destroyed her world, her aunt and uncle have decided she should go back to high school. Be "normal" again. Whatever that is. Ava knows better. There is no normal for someone like her. And forget making friends--no one wants to be seen with the Burned Girl, now or ever.
But when Ava meets a fellow survivor named Piper, she begins to feel like maybe she doesn't have to face the nightmare alone. Sarcastic and blunt, Piper isn't afraid to push Ava out of her comfort zone. Piper introduces Ava to Asad, a boy who loves theater just as much as she does, and slowly, Ava tries to create a life again. Yet Piper is fighting her own battle, and soon Ava must decide if she's going to fade back into her scars . . . or let the people by her side help her fly.
First Thought After Finishing: I was not expecting that to be so emotional!
There is something fascinating in stories of survival and rebuilding. Perhaps it is because we are grateful that those experiences are not our own, or it is simply human nature to puzzle out that which we do not understand. I had heard this book mentioned several times, and the synopsis intrigued me. I found myself glued to the pages, fascinated with this new approach to navigating high school life.
One night—that’s all it took to change Ava’s life forever. Before, she was a theater junkie, center stage in every performance. After, burns covered 60% of her body, and she was a patchwork quilt of skin grafts, though not even the grafts could fix the shape of her nose or her missing ear—or the fact that her parents and cousin perished in the fire. Now, she is only a specter of her former self, haunting her cousin’s house as though she could replace the daughter her aunt and uncle lost. When the “Committee on Ava’s Life” decides she needs to reintegrate to high school, Ava balks at the idea. But it’s only ten days. She can survive that long—she’s a survivor, after all. Ava is prepared to keep her head down, her headphones on, and drown out the world. But she didn’t count on Piper, Asad, or the fact that perhaps she too could be a phoenix.
I rarely read contemporary YA unless I am in the mood for a quick, beach-read-vibes romance or the story deals with heavier issues. As an adult, the general teen drama and pettiness so often found in contemporary stories does not interest me, and as a high school teacher, I see quite enough of it. Scars Like Wings, though in a high school setting, has so much more than that. To be sure, part of the story deals with navigating high school with a face that looks like Freddie Krueger at best, Phantom of the Opera at worst. But as Piper tells her from the first day at Crossroads High, nobody survives high school alone. The initial stares will eventually fade, but it is the support network that must be in place to escape the crushing loneliness.
Enter Piper, another burn survivor who flaunts her status. Unlike Ava, who wants to fade into the background, Piper makes a statement of standing out. Her infectious positivity and refusal to be ignored slowly but surely help Ava emerge from her self-imposed cocoon. Piper is exactly the kind of cheerleader friend that everyone needs, but that hardly means that her life is a bed of roses. She becomes a main character in her own right, and when we are finally given a glimpse into her psyche, you cannot help but want to envelop her in a hug as tight as her compression garments and not let go. As for her other friend, Asad—I still have mixed feelings about him. However, I appreciate that the story does not shy away from gritty reality simply because Ava is a burn survivor. As the vice principal often says, she gets no special treatment, and that was refreshing.
Piper and Ava’s friendship reflected nuances present in everyday life, and that was often a roller-coaster journey on its own. But for me, the true emotional power of this book came from the familial conversations, the ones exploring the impact of being a child without a mother (and what she could do to make her adoptive mother happy) and of being a mother without a child. Ava’s aunt and uncle are, without a doubt, some of the best parents I have read in YA novels. Their family has a seemingly impossible road to navigate, and yet with time, they are able to live into a new normal. The depths of their love and sacrifice in the face of loss will tug at your heartstrings and not let go. Even reflecting on their conversations now is bittersweet—their pain is still tangible, but so is their love. As someone lucky enough to still have her mother, it makes me want to be a better daughter while I still have the chance.
We all have scars—some are just easier to see. We all have doubts, loss, and heartache to some degree. But after reading this book, you start to believe that you too can rise like a phoenix from the ashes. Powerful, poignant, thought-provoking, and dare I say inspiring, this debut novel from Erin Stewart is not to be missed.
Most Memorable Aspect: Learning to love again as a family. (Also all of the Broadway references and quotes.)
Erin Stewart is the author of SCARS LIKE WINGS, her debut novel. Erin is a graduate of the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern and a BYU undergraduate who works as a freelance writer and editor, as well as a weekly columnist in Salt Lake City.
Erin lives in Utah with her husband and three children. She is represented by the amazing Brianne Johnson of Writers House.
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