By Ekta R. Garg
October 9, 2019
Genre: YA fiction
Release date: October 1, 2019
Rated: Bookmark it! / 4 stars
After surviving a terrible accident, a teenager grapples with going back to high school. Her altered appearance provokes deep anxiety about fitting in and makes her an introvert. With the help of new friends, however, she learns about her true self-worth. Author Erin Stewart offers target readers a predictable storyline with a refreshing take in the solid novel Scars Like Wings.
Ava Lee is like most typical sixteen-year-olds. She just wants to be accepted for who she is. Of course, in Ava’s case, that’s a huge ask. She used to be like most other teenagers. Now she just sees herself as the Burned Girl.
A house fire took away her parents and her cousin, Sara, and it left Ava with major burns on more than half her body including her face. She’s endured a year of multiple surgeries and intense, painful rehabilitation. As if life couldn’t get worse, her doctor says it’s time to go back to school.
Ava’s aunt and uncle love the idea, but Ava knows they’re just fulfilling their roles as her dutiful guardians. They’ve been nothing but loving and supportive during the entire ordeal, but Ava isn’t kidding herself. She knows she’s the consolation prize life handed them after they lost their only daughter.
She finally agrees to go back to school on the condition that she go to a new one. She doesn’t need to spend her days with people who knew Before Ava and have to live with the reality of Burned Ava. Before long, she finds herself in the hallways of a new high school with most people pointing, staring, and laughing at her.
Most people; not Piper. Piper’s a burn survivor too and in some ways has it worse. After a horrific car accident, she’s dealing with burns and is also in a wheelchair. That doesn’t stop her from standing up for Ava, even if that means she has to ram a jock in the shins with her chair to do it.
Between Piper’s audacity and the gentle persistence of another new friend, Asad, Ava rediscovers her love of theater. Asad can’t get enough of the stage, and he makes Ava laugh with his nonstop theater references. At first Ava doesn’t believe that Asad’s intentions are genuine, but he convinces her that he doesn’t see her burns. Through it all, Ava will have to decide whether she wants to stop thinking of herself as the Burned Girl and start thinking of herself as just Ava again.
Author Erin Stewart offers a three-dimensional view of the life of a burn survivor. She doesn’t hold back in describing the physical agony and the emotional pain experienced by people who have lived through this awful experience. By adding the extra layer of the anxiety of life as a teenager, she rounds out the complexity of Ava as a main character and gives her well-developed friends in Piper and Asad as well.
The book’s biggest weakness comes in the form of an omitted detail. Ava mourns for her parents and cousin (who was also her best friend,) but the novel lacks specifics on how the fire spread so fast. While the challenges she faces in the present might eclipse the technical aspects of the life-changing event, it would have heightened the dramatic impact even more—a tough task, given how haunting the book already is.
Also, the conflicts in the last scenes get resolved a little too easily. After all Ava fights for and all she suffers in her new school, the about-face of one of the characters is surprising. Target readers might feel some relief and encouragement in the change of events, though, which reinforces the book’s main theme: with or without physical scars, everyone struggles from time to time.
Anyone wanting to read a compelling book about teens surviving a traumatic book will want to check this one out. I recommend readers Bookmark Scars Like Wings.