I was expecting a lot from Bruised, debut novel of author Sarah Skilton, and it really delivered. It is a rare book that can so deftly convey the turbulent emotions that can arise following a traumatic event but Bruised really packs a punch and isn't afraid to delve into what damage can be done to a person's psyche in the aftermath of tragedy.
Bruised tells the story of Imogen, a sixteen year old girl who is a black belt in Tae Kwon Do. Imogen is in a diner one night when a lone gunman holds it up. Things escalate and the gunman ends up dead, shot down by the local police. The book follows the immediate aftermath of this event. Imogen has immense feelings of guilt but at first you are not really sure why as she has blanked on most of what happened that night, fragments of her memories only coming back to her when she is forced to confront them. The only clear memory she has of that night is of the boy who was there in the diner when everything happened. The one who she locked eyes with; who helped her remain in control when events were unfolding. Imogen doesn't even know his name and didn't get a chance to find out as they were separated by the police following the shooting.
Imogen falls into a deep depression, which is only compounded by her family who want to help but are powerless to do so. You soon find out that Imogen's home life has been somewhat strained and she finds it hard to reach out and seek comfort from those closest to her. Her father's health is not good and he is now in a wheelchair. She has never been overly close with her mother and she has a fractious relationship with her older brother Hunter who has been in her back books recently after he ruined her friendship with her best friend Shelly. Her other friends she was never as close to so Imogen feels she has no one to confide in. It is only when she crosses paths again with the boy from the diner, Ricky - who is also suffering from the events of that night, that Imogen starts to feel alive again but her grief and guilt do not let up and she could end up even pushing him away.
This was an extremely moving story and I feel it really captured how Post Traumatic Stress Disorder can affect people and make them react in ways they never would before. Imogen lived and breathed Tae Kwon Do and was confident in her abilities to protect herself and to diffuse difficult situations. All of her training did little to prepare her for coming up against a situation like the one she found herself in and Imogen is not only traumatised that she witnessed the gunman's death, she felt powerless to stop what was going on. She failed to handle it and it is this which most affects her. Years of hard training and discipline falls apart when Imogen is forced to confront what she views as her short-comings (though an adult would have been hard-pressed to deal with what happened let alone a sixteen year old). What happens when your worldview is completely shifted and you are powerless to do anything about it?
Bruised tackles this subject about what loss of power and control can to do a person and does it in a sensitive and realistic manner. Imogen has always felt that she was capable of taking care of herself and others who are unable to help themselves but when she is faced with the fact that people can (and often will) freeze in the face of real danger she has to cope with this loss of belief in herself and become stronger in the process. This takes a lot of time and even by the end of the book Imogen is not miraculously healed but she is on her way to becoming whole again. She has also become closer to her family and friends again and has fallen for Ricky, who was there for her even when she was trying her best to push him away.
Overall an adept and moving story, not afraid to delve into the darkness but essentially a story of hope and overcoming adversities. Imogen is truly taken to a dark place, given the circumstances I think anyone would start to crack, but she is on the path to healing herself by the end with help from her loved ones. I really liked her family and the rest of the supporting characters were rounded and had distinct personalities. Imogen and Ricky were great leads and I was really rooting for them to overcome their shared experience and get together properly.