Sunday, 23 December 2012

Skin Deep, by Laura Jarratt

It is eight months since the car crash that tore apart Jenna’s village, killed her best friend, and left her face with an angry burn scar. In her mind, she is ugly; she cannot bare to look in the mirror and when she leaves the house it feels like everyone is staring. She misses her friend and doesn’t know how to be herself anymore. And Stephen, the boy responsible, the boy who was driving, is walking around as if nothing happened.

A new town, new people. Again. Ryan is used to upping sticks and moving on: he and his mum are travellers, living on a boat and moving from place to place. When they moor near to Jenna’s house, he and Jenna strike up a friendship that is set to change them both. Used to being looked down upon and judged, Ryan finds in Jenna someone who can see him for the person he truly is. But as their relationship develops, circumstances out of their control seem set to tear them apart.

This was a surprising story that ran deeper than I was expecting. Instead of being a simple teen romance, the plot develops in all sorts of directions - including murder. After the accident, Jenna’s dad set up a campaign group for traffic safety - he wants to bring reckless drivers to justice, but Jenna hates the attention it brings on her, especially when the family becomes a target for harassment on top of everything else. Why won’t he just leave things alone? And Ryan has a knack for attracting trouble too: protecting Jenna’s honour gets him into a fight with Stephen. Can he protect both Jenna and his sick mum, or will he have to sacrifice one for the other?

Skin Deep is a good read and covers several different issues in a calm manner without making a big deal out of them - bullying, sexual harassment, low self esteem, bipolar disease, child carers. This sounds like a fairly grizzly list when written out like that, and could make it seem as if this is a misery-filled book, but it is not. Far from it. These are simply the everyday sort of things that the various different characters encounter during the story, and they deal with them as and when they need to in a positive and healthy manner. In this way, author Laura Jarratt writes in a very natural manner. Neither the writing nor the storyline come across as contrived or constructed; instead it feels very much as if these could be real people going through just these same things somewhere in a sleepy little English town. All credit to Jarratt.

Ultimately, Jenna and Ryan both manage to find a way through their problems - or, at least, begin to learn how to live with their circumstances - and there are a few real live truths tucked away in their story. Skin Deep is not likely to attract a cult following to the extent that authors such as Stephenie Meyer and Suzanne Collins have, but it is a strong offering in a sometimes indifferent teen market that will sit well alongside authors such as Jenny Downham.

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