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Scars Like Wings

Book review by
Mary Cosola, Common Sense Media
Scars Like Wings Book Poster Image
Inspiring story of a burned teen finding her new normal.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Lots of medical facts about burn injuries, including treatments, grafts, and long term effects of the injuries. Insight into trauma and the different ways it affects people. Many references to theater and Broadway musicals.

Positive Messages

Protecting yourself by isolating yourself shuts off sources of love and support. Don't get so wrapped up in your own misery that you miss the problems other people are dealing with. You have to risk a little heartache to find true friendship and love. Life is no fun if you try to go through it alone. It is important to set goals for yourself. Your presence in the world influences people more than you realize. If you fully own who you are, no one can bully you for it.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Ava's been through a traumatic, life-changing event. She struggles with connections and empathy as a result of trying to deal with her own physical and emotional pain, but she's a good, caring person. She builds empathy for others, learns to be a good friend, and discovers that helping others is an avenue to her own healing. Piper also has issues around her injuries and future. She's mostly a good friend to Ava, even though her trauma causes her to make some poor decisions. Asad is nonjudgmental and kind to Ava and Piper. Cora and Glen upend their lives to care for and support Ava, even though they're grieving the death of their daughter. Dr. Layne is an empathetic and effective therapist.

Violence

Ava has spotty memories of experiencing a house fire that killed three family members and severely injured her. Descriptions of painful, disfiguring burns, grafts, and surgeries. Ongoing pain and issues with injuries detailed. Verbal and cyberbullying of disfigured and injured teens. One character deals with homophobic slurs. A fight breaks out at a party, with some shoving and a few punches thrown, but no one seriously injured. A teen attempts suicide in a cry for help.

Sex

Dating, crushes, and attraction figure into the plot. Characters discuss the attractiveness of themselves and others. There are some joking references to sex and masturbation. One character recalls kissing an ex-boyfriend.

Language

Infrequent and mild swearing, including "damned," "hell," "crap," "ass," "pissed," "butt," and "slutty."

Consumerism

Few brands or media mentioned: Junior Mints, The Gap.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

A parent regularly drinks too much to cope with the stress of his daughter's injuries and ongoing care. A kid takes pain pills because of a severe spinal injury. Alcohol is served at a party, but none of the main characters drink it.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Scars Like Wings is a novel about a teen girl, Ava, learning to navigate life after being severely disfigured and injured in a house fire that killed her family. A year after the fire and lots of surgeries and medical treatments, Ava reluctantly agrees to move from homeschooling to attending high school again. She chooses to start a new school, rather than face everyone who knew her before the fire. Regular teen issues like cliques, social awkwardness, and navigating friendships and romance feature in the plot but are heightened due to Ava's disfigurement and emotional trauma. There are descriptions of painful, disfiguring burns, grafts, and surgeries and ongoing pain after, verbal in-person bulling and cyberbullying of disfigured and injured teens. One character deals with homophobic slurs. A fight breaks out at a party with some shoving and a few punches thrown. There's little strong language ("damned," "hell," "crap," "ass," "pissed") and substance use (a parent regularly drinks too much, a teen's drug OD is portrayed as a cry for help). And the sexy stuff is limited to a memory of kissing, some jokes about sex, and teen crushes. Ava's and her friend Piper's injuries and PTSD offer discussion points around the amount of work it takes to deal with trauma and the ripple effect an accident or disaster can have on people around the survivors.

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What's the story?

In SCARS LIKE WINGS, 16-year-old Ava Lee is trying to figure out how to move forward in life after a house fire killed her parents and cousin and left her severely disfigured. She now lives with her aunt and uncle after spending months in the hospital after the fire. With encouragement from them and her therapist, Ava agrees to try returning to high school. She's terrified of the reaction she will receive but decides it’s better to start a new school than face life at her previous school, where she had good friends and was a musical theater star. Things go as horribly as expected until she meets Piper, an outgoing, boisterous survivor of a car crash. Ava has spent the past year pushing people away, quietly dealing with her trauma alone. Piper also pushes people away, but she refuses to do anything quietly and forces Ava out of her shell at her new school. Even though Ava encounters typical teen stuff in school, nothing about her life is typical anymore. She wants to participate in the school musical, date, and make friends, but she doesn’t feel like she's worthy of anything good anymore and wonders who could ever want to be around someone with her physical and emotional scars. As she comes out of her self-imposed protective shell, she risks getting hurt but gains empathy for the people around her. The story shows the lasting impact of traumatic events and how most people are dealing with scars of their own, whether or not they're visible.

Is it any good?

A teen disfigured in a fire copes with devastating loss and the difficulty of finding her new normal in this inspiring and engaging story. High school is hard enough without facing it dramatically scarred, but in Scars Like Wings, Ava Lee has to do just that. Navigating a new school with severe burns is the ultimate test of her will and confidence. By putting Ava in that position, author Erin Stewart heightens the stakes in the typical teen issues high schoolers face, such as cliques, self-esteem, friendships, and dating, but there’s enough humor in the story to lighten the heaviness of the topic.

Ava's story and her friendship with Piper provide great insight into the different ways people deal with trauma. Ava shuts the world out, saying that she's giving her old friends a pass on having to deal with her, but in reality she's closing herself off to prevent any further hurt. Piper is loud and brash, but she's more shut down emotionally than she cares to admit. The story shows that pushing everyone away isn't the answer, nor is putting on a brave face and pretending all is OK. The balance between protecting your feelings and reaching out for help is important. As Ava works through group therapy, she writes poetry that breaks up the narrative and gives the reader insight into her emotional healing journey. The social drama at her high school is a cliché at times and some of the other students are stereotypes, but that part of the plot offers a look at the complicated emotions of people trying to figure how to support and deal with survivors. In general, Stewart does a good job of showing how one person's life-changing trauma has a ripple effect and can change the lives of those around them.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how the aftermath of traumatic experiences is depicted in Scars Like Wings. Do the ways Ava and Piper behave seem realistic to you? Did the story give you insight into how hard life can be for people who have experienced that kind of loss and those types of permanent injuries?

  • How important do you feel good friendships are? Should friends put up with any kind of behavior out of love, or do they need to call out their friends unacceptable behavior?

  • How do you react when you encounter people who look different due to illness or injuries? Did Ava's story help you understand how your reaction can affect those people?

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