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Kendra, fifteen, hasn't felt safe since she began to recall devastating memories of childhood sexual abuse, especially because she still can't remember the most important detail-her abuser's identity. Frightened, Kendra believes someone is always watching and following her, leaving menacing messages only she understands. If she lets her guard down even for a minute, it could cost Kendra her life.
To relieve the pressure, Kendra cuts; aside from her brilliantly expressive artwork, it's her only way of coping. Since her own mother is too self-absorbed to hear her cries for help, Kendra finds support in others instead: from her therapist and her art teacher, from Sandy, the close family friend who encourages her artwork, and from Meghan, the classmate who's becoming a friend and maybe more. But the truth about Kendra's abuse is just waiting to explode, with startling unforeseen consequences. Scars is the unforgettable story of one girl's frightening path to the truth.
Starred review from School Library Journal (May 1st issue)
Awards and Nominations
2010 Governor General Literary Award Finalist; #1 in YALSA's Top 10 Quick Picks for Reluctant Readers (2011); ALA's 2011 Rainbow Project List (LGBT recommended books); 2011 SCBWI Crystal Kite Finalist; Staff Pick for Teaching Tolerance (Fall 2012). SCARS was also nominated for the 2011 ALA Stonewall Book Award, 2011 Independent Literary Awards (LGBT), and the 2011 Elliot Rosewater Indiana High School Book Award.
More About SCARS and Self-Harm
A percentage of all my profits for Scars go to the Toronto Rape Crisis Center/Multicultural Women Against Rape and Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network (RAINN).
Many teens secretly self-harm; it is often a painful, hidden issue. I have drawn on my personal experience of self-harm, sexual abuse, and trauma/dissociation, to offer an insider perspective in SCARS. It’s a book I care deeply about, and I’m hoping you'll pick it up.
I show Kendra cutting for many of the same reasons that I have—-to relieve unbearable emotional pain; to escape or suppress abuse memories and related overwhelming emotion; to not kill herself; to shut herself up; to try to feel better; to silently cry out for help; and to punish herself. It is my arm, my scars, on the cover of SCARS. Although cutting hurt me, it also helped me survive.
If you know someone who's used self-harm, or you've hurt yourself, I hope you'll read my Reasons Not To Hurt Yourself which you can download as a free PDF. You may also want to download Helpful Responses To Someone Who's Self-Harmed; Alternatives To Self-Harm; and How To Stop Self-Harming.
Video review of SCARS by OCD about Books
“Whatever their life experience, [teens] will be on the edge of their seats, rooting for Kendra to unravel the mystery that shadows her life. This is one heck of a good book!”
-- School Library Journal (starred review)
"Emotions ring true in this thriller/survivor story. ...a raw and honest story."
-- Publisher's Weekly
"Rainfield writes with great empathy and compassion as she tells Kendra's story. Kendra's pain is palpable, and the descriptions of her cutting are graphic. ... Kendra's relationship with Meghan also is very well done. As Kendra begins to trust Meghan and fall in love with her, she begins to open up and share more with people who can help her. It is clear that Rainfield has firsthand knowledge of these topics, and she handles them deftly."
-- Lynn Evarts, VOYA
"Scars depicts the daily pain a survivor of sexual abuse must face. Cheryl Rainfield paints the horror of ritual abuse through both Kendra’s art and cutting. The brutality of Kendra’s cutting wrenches at your heart wishing you could take away her anguish. Rainfield’s refusal to hold anything back brings to light a story that can, perhaps, save a life. With Scars, she makes it known that a survivor can find happiness again."
-- Inderjit Deogun, CM Magazine (4 stars)
"The book was fantastic. The subject material was heartbreaking, but it was beautifully written. It had a powerful message showing readers that even when the worst things happen to us, there are people who care and are willing to stand beside you and help you through it. It also shows the reader to be brave, to believe in yourself, and to trust your instincts." Krispie's Book Blog
"This is an extremely powerful story about the strength of a young woman who went through more than anyone should have to, and, with the caution about possible triggers, I would recommend it to any teen.">Jo Ramsey
"To sum it up in one word, this book is raw. SCARS is easy to read in the sense that it’s well-written and the pages seem to fly by because of the riveting story, but at the same time it’s not easy to read because I felt uncomfortable with certain scenes. This debut is powerful, gripping, and suspenseful."Medeia Sharif
"Scars is a dark, honest, and raw portrayal of what can occur to a victim of sexual abuse and addresses the unspoken issues that victim face. It’s not an easy read, but as someone who understands the source material, it is a very accurate depiction and I was unable to put the story down once I started reading."
-- Fern, The Long and the Short of It: Aurora, the Dawn of a New Generation of Readers. Read the entire review.
"Kendra's voice is powerful. The author allows the reader to fully connect with and understand her fears. Right from the beginning when Kendra tells her therapist about being followed by her abuser, I was invested in her story.
There were many moments when I didn't think I could be any closer to Kendra. Her voice is sad beautiful and vulnerable. It easy to understand Kendra's need to cut. Kendra speaks through her art. On more than one occasion, the healing power of expressing oneself through art is mentioned. Reinfield doesn't rely on any tricks, she simply tells a story. Her writing is honest and real. Kendra's story will hit you hard."
-- Doret, The Happy Nappy Bookseller. Read the entire review.
"I think that even though this book mainly centers on the abuse that Kendra went through and trying to find out the identity of her abuser, I also think it’s about coming to terms with something we have no control over, and learning to accept and love yourself after going through something horrific.
Even weeks after finishing Scars I can’t stop thinking about Kendra and her story, which I’ve found out is common with sexual abuse victims.
I was very happy with the way Cheryl Rainfield ended the book, because I knew it couldn’t end too happy with everything that had been discovered. I think it has the perfect ending, with everyone trying to face and accept the past and look forward to the future ahead of them."
-- Kelsey, Just Blinded Book Reviews. Read the entire review.
"My colleague across town and I share a lot of books with one another since we both purchase and read teen fiction for work. If something's catching her attention or the attention of her teens, she lets me know and vice versa. Scars by Cheryl Rainfield was a title she told me I needed to buy, as all of the pages at her work put holds on it immediately upon seeing it. With that kind of pitch, I knew I had to both buy it and read it. I'm glad I did, even though this isn't a book I particularly loved.
Scars was a very fast read and will appeal greatly to reluctant readers. It reminded me in a lot of ways of Patricia McCormick's classic Cut, and it will likely appeal to the same audience. The first reason seems obvious, but there are other similarities: a fully-fleshed main character with weaker secondary characters.
One of the gutsy things Rainfield does here is develop a very outcasted character -- or at least what may be considered one socially -- and made her fairly normal. Kendra's a victim of abuse, a cutter, an artist, and a lesbian, but she never makes any of them define her singularly. A lot of times in issues books such as this, one issue becomes what defines a character, but for me, I found Kendra fully fleshed and wholly human: I cared a heck of a lot about her well-being and with each new aspect of her personality, I came to get a really good picture of how dynamic she was. I didn't want her to consider ending her life because she really had so much going FOR her in terms of a relationship and in a career in art.
While Scars isn't one of my personal favorites, it was a worthwhile and realistic read. It'll have a good audience, and it's one I wouldn't hesitate to recommend to any number of teen readers. Give it to fans of Ellen Hopkins, Gail Giles, Patricia McCormick's Cut, Laurie Halse Anderson's Wintergirls or Speak, Nina La Cour's hold still, and other similar strong "issues" stories. It's one worth making room for on your shelves for sure."
-- Kelly J, Stacked Books. Read the entire review.
"The best thing about this novel, in my opinion, is the main character, Kendra. She is just such an honest and raw character, I completely believed her. She had been through SUCH a trauma and no one in her life seemed to understand or care about the pain she was in. A few scenes actually made me cry, her pain was so palpable and I felt it right along with her. One part in particular, when she is trying to tell her mom about the abuse (at the age of three or four) and her mom is literally ignoring her… this broke my heart into a million pieces. I cannot describe quite how realistic Kendra is – I felt like I was getting to know a very sad, upset, and literally scarred teenager – and all I wanted to do was help her.
I highly enjoyed the way Kendra’s relationship with Meaghan was portrayed in the book. She was in a relationship with a girl, but Rainfield didn’t make it out to be this big issue that some other books have a tendency to do. There were clearly people in Kendra’s life who took issue with her sexuality, but there was no “hi, I’m a lesbian” moment in the book. It was just Kendra, being herself, being attracted to girls and finally finding the right person who could appreciate her and, ultimately, help her heal.
I could go on forever about Scars, but I would rather you read it for yourself. This is an extremely powerful novel about one girl’s path to self-destruction and back again. Highly recommended."
-- Heather Lo, Book Addiction. Read the entire review.
"I remember seeing a sneak peek of the cover of her upcoming novel, Scars at her blog. My first thought…I have to check that out! As if the cover isn’t chilling enough, the story is a gripping tale that tackles the difficult issues of sexual abuse and self-harm.
This book is so intense, it makes for a quick read. Rainfield tackles the difficult, traumatic subjects of sexual abuse, cutting, and sexual preference in a tactful way, opening up about her own experience in an author’s note at the end. ...This powerful story is sure to do just that–bring hope to those who have suffered like Kendra and understanding to those who are unfamiliar with using self-harm to cope. Rainfield does an incredible job of getting inside Kendra’s head from her deepest thoughts, insecurities, and fears to portraying her as a survivor and a fighter."
-- Lori Calabrese. Read the entire review from Children's Book Examiner.
"Rainfield does an exceptional job helping the reader understand Kendra, both as a typical teen struggling with growing up, and also as a young girl who is harming herself to deal with being a victim of sexual abuse. She makes it clear that these kinds of pains are too big to handle “alone.”
[Kendra is] very “real,” and I finished the book happy and hopeful for [her]. ...Kendra’s journey is ...hopeful. ...I couldn't put the book down!"
-- Terry Doherty, The Reading Tub. Read the entire review.
"This is a powerful, potent book that will leave you feeling twisted and flayed because this book not only dives into the horrific world of child sexual abuse, it throws in cutting. Each facet stands out, shining as brightly as its counterpart without either overtaking the other. There are books I could compare this to because they have similar subject matter- books that deal with sexual abuse and ones for cutting but rarely any that combine the two. That, alone, makes this book thrust itself forward. Even more notably is the somewhat autobiographical nature of it and knowing that, this book surged into me even more deeply because although it is fiction, there is obvious proof at least parts of this are based on a dark reality. Books like this can often blur the fiction/nonfiction line and this one does it expertly, pulling the reader in and making them feel every bit of pain Kendra did- pain the author felt at one point.
Rainfield does a magnificent job building all her characters, from Kendra to her parents to Meghan and Kendra's much needed and very trusted therapist Carolyn. Each of these characters becomes a full person, realistic in the mind of the reader and made stronger by the very raw way in which Rainfield pitches Kendra, her thoughts, and her story.
I read this one straight through in one evening, gripped and pulled in from the very first page. Rainfield has done something wonderful with this novel despite the very dark, harsh topic. I highly, highly recommend it even if parts are rough to read. It will stick with you, it will make you rethink some things, and it will keep the notion that sexual abuse can happen to anyone, at any time in your mind."
-- Kari, A Good Addiction. Read the entire review.
"This book is wonderful and powerful. It is a book I read in a day and then took two days to digest. I highly recommend it. That said, this is a book about prolonged sexual abuse and self-injury, in addition to being a book about a girl whose mother is not happy about her daughter's new girlfriend. It is not for everyone, but it will undoubtedly be really important for more than a few someones."
-- Lawral Wornek, Lucy Was Robbed. Read the entire review.
"This is a very dark book, but if you can stomach these sorts of things, the novel has a lot to offer for itself. Certainly the story is riveting and will keep you hooked. ...I found the characters compelling. It is always a bit of a challenge to take a victim like Kendra and make her strong yet believable. Yet in this case, Kendra's struggles seemed realistic (and it helps to learn that much of her sufferings were based on the author's own experiences -- it lends credibility to the overall story). That I'm saying this is significant as I've always found cutting hard to understand, and I really got it in this case. Kudos for getting through to the hard-to-reach!"
-- Paul Goldschmidt, Not Acting My Age. Read the entire review.
"Scars by Cheryl Rainfield is a book full of many unexpected twists and turns, a very suspenseful novel.
Rainfield takes a head on charge at many sensitive subjects: teenage homosexuality, sexual abuse, cutting. She has written a book you don't want to put down (and I don't think I did), but at the same time you are so horrified that you want to throw it against the wall, feeling so much for this girl, Kendra, and the pain she must feel."
-- JDenck, teen reviewer, Age:15, Flamingnet. See the entire review.
"What sets Rainfield’s story apart is the stalking element: her rapist is still hounding her, giving her frightening reminders that she will be killed if she tells anyone the truth. ...that same sense of overwhelming emotion might appeal to teens wrestling with similar issues. ...Rainfield’s closing research guide is unusually extensive. Grades 8-11."
-- Daniel Kraus, BookList
"The book isn't the least bit patronizing. It shows raw emotions & reactions without necessarily explaining specific causes, which allows readers to draw their own conclusions. Ultimately, I have to agree with Ellen Hopkins that this book forces one to stop and breathe. By the time I was done dragging the book everywhere I went, it looked as though it had been through a war. And although I felt as though I'd been through the war with it, I couldn't pretend I wasn't glad I'd read it."
-- Julie M Prince. Read the entire review.
"Scars had me intrigued from page one. Cheryl Rainfield does an excellent job capturing Kendra’s emotions, and the book is a complete page-turner. I got it yesterday and finished it around twelve in the morning–I could NOT put it down. Rainfield makes the reader care about Kendra and her situation, and adds enough suspense to keep the pages turning.
In short: this book is beautiful and powerful, so please, please, please pick it up."
-- Nita, The Back of the Bookshelf. Read the entire review.
"In Scars Cheryl Rainfield has created a vibrant character, Kendra, who realistically deals with an unbelievable number of issues in just 250 pages.
The strands of these issues weave together an amazing story until suddenly they form a tapestry of betrayal with a shocking conclusion."
-- Diane Chen, Practically Paradise on School Library Journal Blog. Read the entire review.
"While Scars is a fast-paced novel dealing with hard issues, it's also a love story. Kendra has fallen in love with Meghan, and Meghan has fallen in love with her. With Meghan she is able to be herself, to talk and have someone really listen, really understand. Scars is an emotional, compelling novel. Kendra's story is haunting and the threats she faces are all too real. Scars is a book that is hard to put down."
-- Becky Laney, Becky's Book Reviews. Read the entire review.
"This is an extremely powerful story about the strength of a young woman who went through more than anyone should have to, and, with the caution about possible triggers, I would recommend it to any teen." Jo Ramsey
"SCARS is a brave novel, a read-in-one-sitting-except-when-you-have-to-put-it-down-to-breathe novel."
-- Ellen Hopkins, author of Burned, a National Book Award nominee and an ALA Best Book for Young Adults, and Glass, an ALA Top Ten Book for Young Adults
"SCARS is a painful and well told story, obviously written with the heart's blood of the author. It could prove to be a life-saver for other young victims of abuse and self-harm."
-- Lois Duncan, Margaret A. Edwards Award-winning author of Killing Mr. Griffin and I Know What You Did Last Summer
"Rainfield's gripping, chillingly honest account of an abused teen's fight to survive her history, and its consequent self-harm, is written with such compassion and empathy that this is ultimately a story of hope."
-- Wendy Orr, author of Peeling the Onion
"SCARS is a beautifully written, deeply compassionate story of sexual abuse, cutting, and the process of recovery from both. I expected a harsh, bitter rage, but instead found a warm, embracing voice. Anger is there, yes, along with terror, but what a surprise to read such an uplifting book about such devastating issues! Those who have been victims will find a realistic portrayal of abuse and self-harm, but also a heartfelt understanding and an encouraging journey toward healing. Others will simply be glad they read this book and learned so much from such a generous teacher."
-- Kathleen Jeffrie Johnson, author of Target, Gone, and A Fast and Brutal Wing
"SCARS is an engrossing, frightening, suspenseful and utterly realistic portrayal of cutting as a girl's outlet to deal with the horror of sexual abuse. Rainfield beautifully captures the power of redemptive love required of survivors to move beyond trauma to inner strength and peace. A must-read for teens and those who care deeply about them."
-- Julie Anne Peters, author of Luna, Rage: A Love Story, and By The Time You Read This, I'll Be Dead
"A gripping fast-paced young adult novel that explores the complex dynamics that have led to an epidemic of cutting and self-injury. A realistic, yet hopeful read, SCARS provides young people with a powerful role model in 15-year-old Kendra Marshall--a struggling abuse survivor who emerges at the novel's end having found strength, community and a pathway to healing."
-- Laura Davis, co-author of The Courage to Heal: A Guide for Women Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse, 20th Anniversary Edition
"An important and necessary book for young people struggling with abuse, cutting, sexual orientation and building a healthy life. We all need to see our lives reflected in the books we read. Cheryl Rainfield has made a meaningful contribution with SCARS. I hope this story reaches all the young people who need it."
-- Ellen Bass, co-author of The Courage to Heal: A Guide for Women Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse, 20th Anniversary Edition
"Kendra's journey will tug your heartstrings and have you holding your breath at the same time. Cheryl Rainfield's deeply emotional novel is a must read."
-- Marlene Perez, author of Dead Is the New Black
Get free bonus material and goodies for SCARS, including a Teaching & Discussion Guide, videos, and Reasons Not To Hurt Yourself handout.
The interviews below each go into different areas more deeply than others. Want to know more about how Scars came about, how the cover was designed, or more about the author? Read on.
- A Q&A with Scars author Cheryl Rainfield on Torontoist
- Author Interview with Cheryl Rainfield on Lori Calabrese
- Author Interview: Cheryl Rainfield on A Good Addiction
- Sexual Abuse Realities: Author Interview With Cheryl Rainfield, Author of Scars on Writing is a Blessing
- Women Who Rock Wednesday: Cheryl Rainfield on Life, Words, & Rock n' Roll
- Cover Stories: Scars by Cheryl Rainfield with Melissa Walker on Unabashedly Bookish: The BN Community Blog
- Toronto Tuesdays with Cheryl Rainfield on Where the (Not-So) Wild Things Are