________________ CM . . . . Volume XIV Number 4 . . . . October 12, 2007


Scarred. (SideStreets).

Monique Polak.
Toronto, ON: James Lorimer, 2007.
152 pp., pbk. & hc., $9.95 (pbk.), $16.95 (hc).
ISBN 978-1-55028-964-0 (pbk.), ISBN 978-1-55028-965-7 (hc.).

Grades 7 and up / Ages 12 and up.

Review by Rachel Steen.

*** /4


The first cut, the first drop of blood brought a kind of relief I’d never felt before. I’d even been able to tune out the sounds of Mom and Errol shouting, and of Dad trudging up the stairs, pleading with them to both cut it out.

That’s when the Swiss Army Knife became my friend. The thought sent a chill through my spine. My Friend? The knife wasn’t my friend. What kind of friend would hurt you? Make you bleed? No, the knife was my enemy. I knew better than anyone else what harm it could do.

But now, even knowing what I did, I still couldn’t resist. It was as if it had some strange hold on me.”

Once a rising figure skating star, Becky has given up her passion and walks through her life feeling lonely, disconnected and numb, using her talent only to teach skating to little girls at a summer sports camp. Only cutting herself makes her feel anything, and when she sees a young skater in her group starting to struggle with the same pressures she did, she will have to face her past in order to save the young girl’s future.

     Monique Polak has tackled the important issue of cutting in her latest addition to the “Sidestreets” series. With Becky, she has created a convincing and realistic character, and teen readers will connect with her struggles with self-image. The story is relayed in first person in Becky’s voice, and the author alludes to some traumatic event which caused Becky to give up her skating which she loved, but even Becky is unable to immediately pinpoint exactly what it was. Quitting skating is also a source of tension between Becky and her mother, someone who Becky is convinced only loved her when she thought Becky would be a star. Now, Becky feels added pressure from her mother regarding her weight and wasted potential, and these pressures are, in part, why Becky turns to cutting.

     Becky’s brother also seems to have some issues, and the fact that he’s seeing a counselor is referred to multiple times, but only skimmed on the surface, leaving the reader to puzzle together whatever problems he may be having. Surprisingly though, Becky does find an ally in her brother, who ends up being the only member of her family to catch on to what she is doing and offer her some help.

     Becky aptly comments that “unlike drugs and STD’s, cutting wasn’t a topic that ever came up in our moral and religious education at school,” and Polak handles this rarely addressed topic with sensitivity while offering teens a lot of useful information on this disease. (And she is clear that it is as much of a disease as Bulimia or Anorexia) The difficulty, however, is that most of this information comes from the Internet, and not from a professional or accredited source. While it’s realistic that most teens do use the Internet as a source of information, it is, for the most part, Becky’s only source of information, and her ability to solve her problems as a result of her internet findings is a bit too simple and contrived. In an age where teens are being taught not to blindly trust everything they read on the internet, for Becky to so easily find all the answers doesn’t ring true. And while it’s a positive sign that she goes on to buy a book written by a professional, it would have sent a better message if she had told a parent what was going on. The woman from whom she bought the bracelets also offers some personal connection for Becky, but she also should have encouraged her to seek help.

     Despite these faults, the novel is well written and engaging and offers several positive messages to its readers.


Rachel Steen is the Elementary/YA selection manager at S&B Books in Mississauga, ON.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364
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