Scarred by Mia Kerick: 5/10 Stars

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Matthew North waited ten years to heal from the devastating wounds inflicted by the man who abducted and abused him as a child. Living reclusively on a tropical island—with no company but his four cats—he merely avoids the lingering pain.

Wearing twisted ropes of mutilated skin on his back, Matt struggles with a profound hindrance—the scars that deaden his soul. However, on the night he meets lively Vedie Wilson, a local restaurant busboy who expresses his gender by wearing lipgloss and eyeliner along with his three-day beard, things change.

Gradually, Vedie and Matthew unite in friendship. Through a series of awkward encounters, the pair learns each other’s secrets. Vedie learns that an angelic face can front for a scarred soul. Matthew learns that the line between one’s masculine and feminine sides is blurred. Can they embrace the painful stories behind each other’s scars if they’re to find everlasting love? Or will surrendered love come to be yet another blemish on their souls?

 

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Overall Rating: 5/10 stars

Matt’s Review: 1/5 Stars

When I opened this book, and Matt had disassociation, I was so excited. (For personal reasons I won’t go into, but still.)

And then it turned into your standard Romancelandia sexual abuse trope. (Complete with loving Vedie is totally fixing Matt, and Matt doesn’t wig out despite Vedie being the first man he’s slept with since his abuser. It also turns around neatly into the cis saviour trope later, which is one of my least favourites.)

And it doesn’t stop with the sexual abuse backstory trope either.

This book is abuse porn.

This book contains: descriptions of child rape; transphobic sexual assault; transphobic attempted rape; two counts of violent trans bashing; and attempted murder of a trans character.

And it all feels so—

Exploitative? Unnecessary? Almost like it’s there to titillate the reader?

Well…yeah.

It feels like there is no purpose to this except to excite the reader. It really does. The message—of two damaged, scarred people coming together and working through their problems—could have been done with the backstory and the first trauma and that’s it. But no, we need to be beaten over the head with the abuse instead. And coming from a cis author, this makes me deeply uncomfortable. It feels like Kerick is exploiting what trans people can and do go through, just for shock factor and excitement.

Maybe for a cis audience this would serve as a good wake-up call, to people who believe that being trans is about birth certificates and bathrooms and nothing else, but honestly? I wouldn’t recommend this to a trans person. We have enough of these fears without them being turned into abuse porn.

Notice another thing? We haven’t tagged this with an identity. Any identity. Guess why.

I have no idea how Vedie identifies. And not in the sense that the character doesn’t know (which would actually be super neat and new) because he seems very sure of it. But in that what he’s saying doesn’t seem to make sense. And even hints at transmisogyny.

Vedie is a cross-dresser. And it’s written very much like he is bigender or genderfluid. There is very much the impression that there is a she, that there is a definite identity as a female, intertwined as it may be with his identity as a male, rather than this is a cis guy who is into cross-dressing sometimes. But then these impressions are repeatedly (and aggressively) followed up with Vedie insisting that he is a man, not ‘some lady.’ And yes, it’s not exactly phrased nicely either. So I don’t actually know what the rep was going for here.

And then there’s Matt. He outright says neither gay nor straight fits…and then we fall down the labels-don’t-matter rabbit-hole. The author even says in an interview at the back of the book that she thinks of Matt as pansexual…but labels don’t matter! Which leaves us with a book refusing to acknowledge sexualities other than straight and gay. Great. Like we needed more of those in queer fiction.

So yeah. Label allergies, to top off the rest. My favourite. Why did I give this book any stars at all?

The writing is amazing. There’s very few authors in LGBT fiction I think of as being genuinely skilled at writing—not storytelling, but the sheer art of writing. This writing? This is skilled. It even got me past the first person POV, which I loathe. This skill on a better story? I would be all over that.

So in summary, this is beautifully written, with incredible voices and a super vivid setting, but that’s about it. For the sheer level of gratuitous transphobic violence in this story, I wouldn’t recommend this one.

Kat’s Review: 4/5 Stars

This book is brutal. Brutal. It’s not the kind of book I ordinarily recommend because the content is so brutal and messed up but it worked for me. I love books that elicit a strong emotional response. I love books with emotionally scarred and damaged characters. Scarred pushed those buttons for me and then some.

Both characters have survived intense, brutal traumas and while some people would think it’s too much and too unbelievable that both partners would have experienced so much trauma, I found it believable. I find that people that are “damaged” gravitate to others that are also “damaged.” Matthew and Vedie worked because they “got” each other due to their mutual traumas. Maybe they didn’t always understand each other but they could sense and relate to the other’s pain and empathize. They were able to be sensitive and patient with each other in a way that others wouldn’t be because they had also experienced horrifying trauma.

I love the way Mia Kerick breaks down both Vedie’s and Matthew’s thoughts and motivations. She does a brilliant job getting us into their heads and helping us understand their thought processes. This is especially important with Matthew, because his trauma was so severe, his way of dealing and relating with people is completely out of the ordinary.

My favorite part of this book is how Matthew and Vedie accept each other exactly the way they are! Matthew is comfortable with and completely embraces Vedie’s gender fluidity. He loves Vedie whether Vedie is feeling masculine, feminine or anywhere in between. And Vedie repeatedly says and thinks that even though being with Matthew is difficult, he doesn’t want or need to change Matthew. Vedie understands that we can only truly be happy when we our live being our authentic selves and that trying to change Matthew won’t make anyone happy unless Matthew wants to change.

Things I didn’t like:

I didn’t like the way Vedie thinks it’s understandable that his gender fluidity makes him the object of hate crime. Maybe there are people that feel that way but it made me very uncomfortable. It felt like he was justifying people’s intolerance and hate. It felt wrong to me and I cringed and shuddered every time Vedie minimized the hate and intolerance directed toward him.

I was also frustrated with the way Matthew repeatedly says that Vedie “fixed” him. I’m uncomfortable with the idea that emotionally scarred people are fixed and healed by the love of another. Fortunately, Kerick shows Matthew doing the work and does a great job demonstrating how his psychological evolution is slow and hard fought. Matthew may say Vedie fixes him, but Matthew works hard for it. His affection for Vedie inspires him and motivates him to work hard to grow and change. I feel this too is realistic. Other people can and do inspire us to grow and change. Vedie gets that HE can’t change Matthew and he doesn’t want to; Matthew WANTS to change because he values his relationship with Vedie and wants their relationship to grow.

Finally, I am very skeptical that with the physical abuse Matthew experienced as a young boy that he wouldn’t be permanently, physically damaged. He is clearly permanently emotionally damaged but to me it seems unlikely that he’d be verse or ever bottom, not just because of the emotional scars but because it’s just so hard to imagine he wouldn’t be physically scarred as well.

From the perspective of my personal enjoyment of the book, I would give Scarred 5 stars. I identified with Matthew’s internal conflict, the desire to protect himself while at the same time recognizing that to have a relationship with Vedie, he would have to let that guard down. That internal struggle and the work it took was very relatable to me. I also loved and identified with his comfort with and attraction to Vedie’s gender fluidity. Unfortunately, because of the problems I had with Scarred, I am going to bump my rating down to 4 stars.

Would I recommend this book? Yes and no. If you can handle intense, horrifying, brutal emotional and physical abuse, it might be a book you would enjoy. The characters feel well developed and in my opinion, believable. I also felt the abuse and it’s aftereffects were handled thoughtfully and sensitively. If you do pick it up, go forewarned that it is emotionally taxing. I love and gravitate to books with super heavy emotional themes and this was on the edge of too much for even me.

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