Bruised by Sarah Skilton, published in 2013
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?
I’m on page 82 of 274 and I’m dangerously close to a DNF. If you know me, then you know I loooaaatthee DNFing a book, because what if everything turns around? What if there’s a crazy twist, or I made a snap judgement and I miss out on the best ending in literary history? I could never forgive myself. But right now this book has my skin itching and my eye twitching, so what better way to take a break than to jot down all the ways I’m turned off by “Bruised” so I can evaluate if the ending (which I will get to!) does my patience any justice.
Number one, the main character is spiteful. I rationalize this by saying hey, it’s the beginning of the book and she has room for development! But this girl needs a loooot of development. Imogen doesn’t like her best friend, Shelly, because she slept with her older brother, Hunter (fair). She also doesn’t like Hunter because he slept with her best friend (also fair). She doesn’t really like her “back up best friends” DJ and Hannah (yes, she refers to them as her “back up best friends,” how sweet) because they know each other better (uh… you literally call them your back ups. Maybe put some effort in then?). She doesn’t like her mom because she’s “too soft” (?????) or her dad because he’s in a wheelchair. YES. She doesn’t like her father because he’s in a wheelchair. (I can understand being uncomfortable around a person with disabilities, but she is blatantly rude to him ALL THE TIME). And that’s everyone she talks to! Wow. Hmm. In case you’re keeping count she likes nobody in this book.
Oh, wait, I lied, our main character Imogen is passionate about one person, the random guy she locks eyes with the night the diner is held up. The diner is robbed, she makes eye contact with this guy, but they never exchange words. Finally, the pair meet up again when the school arranges for them to have co-therapy sessions (okay, whatever, I’ll accept that this is a thing) and he’s like, “I’m Ricky,” and she’s like, “I’m Imogen,” and then they start “hysterically laughing, with tears in their eyes” about the school taking a week to put together the counselling sessions. This is funny how? Whatever, so they bond over a collective thirty sentences, agree co-therapy is a great idea, then he sees a picture of her doing some martial arts, asks if it’s her, and she PUNCHES HIM IN THE FACE. If I’ve read any YA lit though, this romance is just getting started.
I wish these were the only two things that were making my blood boil, but they’re not. The book is currently pulling (and I’m saying currently, because I’m holding out hope that Skilton pulls a GOTCHA on me) a classic “favour the men over women” type scenario. Remember how I said Imogen doesn’t like her bro Hunter OR bestie Shelly after they hooked up? Weeelll, even though the cold shoulder she’s giving Shelly is equal to Antartica, she still has chatty, friendly moments with Hunter. Then completely switches over and drops an internal monologue on how slimy he is. Whatever, she’s complex.
Last but not least, and on this one maybe it’s my lack of knowledge on the topic, but Imogen doesn’t have a lot of respect towards martial arts. I have never trained in any martial arts so I’ll reiterate: this could just be my own inexperience. But isn’t part of Tae Kwon Do about being responsible with your strength? Like, don’t use it on others, it’s to feel powerful and harness your potential? CORRECT ME IF I’M WRONG. But a lot of this book’s premise, and Imogen’s struggles, are based on the question of: “I was in the dinner with a gunman, and I know Tae Kwon Do, so should I have done something?” And this question is rapidly answered by SEVERAL PEOPLE that no, he had a gun, sometimes you can’t do anything in these kinds of situations. Obviously after a trauma people can’t snap their fingers and accept that they are blameless. Yet Imogen becomes enraged at people who tell her it’s not her fault that she didn’t act. She lashes out. (She punches them in the face, ahem.) On paper, the plot looks good aka a black belt dealing with the fall out of a tragic event they could not prevent. Buuut Skilton’s writing doesn’t portray Imogen as struggling, just vengeful. (Also, there is one character who goes around calling Imogen a bitch because she didn’t do anything and I’m sorry but I find this so ridiculous. Who would loudly go around calling anyone a bitch because they didn’t take down an active shooter?)
SO these are my thoughts after 80 pages. Will my opinion be swayed? I currently don’t know, but all you have to do is keep reading, haha.
Alright, the book is now complete and I’m ready to deliver my final verdict. Things do get better. Imogen eventually recognizes that she is on a self-destructive path, that she has ignored that very first rule of Tae Kwon Do: with your first belt, the white belt, you are supposed to release yourself of ego. I think even my summary made very clear this is a hu-u-u-ge issue for her. She begins to make amends with the people she has hurt. (EX: Shelly heads off to a dance school and Imogen orders flowers to be sent anonymously to her for every competition she’s in. The pair also had a heartfelt discussion before Shelly left.) I do think Imogen realizes a lot of the wrongs she has committed and yes, she does put aside ego which was a massive character flaw for her at the beginning of the book.
But I have to say two things. First, Imogen’s relationship with Ricky remains an odd one to me. She kept ordering him to punch her. She needed to experience a “real fight,” to test her skills outside the competition rings of her Tae Kwon Do school, to truly know that she could protect herself. This stemmed from her being unable to do anything in the diner. I can understand this feeling, but the fact that she basically told Ricky that if he did not hit her he was a bad boyfriend was extremely manipulative. NOW. She was suffering from PTSD. She needed a way to feel normal again and yeah, okay, she was doing what she needed to feel alright. But also, Ricky is a person and if he doesn’t feel comfortable hitting someone who happens to be a girl … is that wrong?
The other thing is really my explanation for my final rating on this book. Things do turn around towards the end, but the beginning of the book left such a terrible taste in my mouth. It’s one thing to leave room for a character to improve but it’s another to make them seriously unlikeable. I hated and I mean hated Imogen. She was rude to everyone and thought she was so great because she knew Tae Kwon Do. Honestly, with an attitude like that, I’m surprised she made it to a black belt. So my final rating for this book will be two crowns, because the ending does make a few good points about family relationships, the effects of PTSD, friendship and survival. But the beginning was such a struggle (I really only finished it because I knew I was reviewing it).
Last but not least, I’m tying this book into Article #8 of the UN Declaration of Human Rights: Your Human Rights are Protected by Law. I actually forgot why I picked this HR for Bruised? Please forgive me, haha. How about the fact that we all have the right to life and when the innocent lives in the diner were threatened, aka Imogen’s and Ricky’s, the police stepped in to protect them? Maybe not my best link but I’m kind of ready to forget I read this book.
What makes you DNF a book? Or have you never in your life? Let’s discuss below!
📷 = @shaniasquires