Seventeen-year-old Sarah Meadows covers the walls of her bedroom with images of beautiful faces she clips from magazines—and longs for “normal.” Born with a port-wine stain covering half her face, all her life she’s been plagued by stares, giggles, bullying, and disgust. Why can’t she be like Diamond, the comic-book hero she created? Diamond would never let the insults in. That’s harder for Sarah.
But when she’s abducted on the way home from school, Sarah is forced to uncover the courage she never knew she had. Can she look beyond her face to find the beauty and strength she has inside, somehow becoming a hero rather than a victim? It’s the only way Sarah will have any chance of escaping the prison—both seen and unseen—that this deranged killer has placed around her.
Today is the day I’ve been waiting for my entire life—the beginning of normal.
I reach for the latest Seventeen and flip through its glossy pages until I find the perfect face. The girl is pretty, with wide green eyes, hollow cheekbones, and full, pouty lips. But what I notice most is her smooth, unblemished skin. It’s perfect. I cut the photo out and stick it above my bed, in the last of the space. Now I can’t even see the sunlight yellow of my walls—but the confidence that shines in these faces is even brighter. And today I’m going to get so much closer to that. I don’t care how much the treatments hurt; it’ll be worth it. It can’t hurt as much as the stares and rude comments I get every day.
—ARC paperback edition
This dark and intense tale of abduction, obsession, and triumph alternates narration between the kidnapped Sarah—outcast her whole life for her port-wine stain—and would-be boyfriend/rescuer Nick, a chubby artist and fellow outcast and comic fan.
For all of the freaks and geeks out there, Sarah and Nick will hit close to home as they dodge verbal and physical abuse from ill intentioned peers. Moreover, the subplot of Nick’s quiet, gentle adoration for Sarah for her strength and kindness sets both of them apart from a typical romantic pairing. Their love of comic book characters, of writing and drawing their own stories, never feels forced.
While what the kidnapper does is horrific and could easily have been made two-dimensional, the reader is given glimpses into his fractured psyche—never as a means to excuse, simply as a way of fleshing out the character. Even the girl who bullies Sarah at school has a subtly mentioned back story, allowing for a more realistic portrayal of these teenagers’ world.
Sarah’s determination to survive and return to the life she didn’t appreciate may inspire in her readers a more healthy obsession, one that keeps them up through the night devouring her amazing account in one sitting. Though the narration in captivity grows repetitive and the finale toes the line of melodrama, how this teenager becomes her own superhero and never grows hopeless is no small feat and worthy of admiration.
Sarah’s world also includes positive, genuine portrayals of LGBT couples both old and young without drawing undue attention to their everyday living. This normalcy, without mocking or praise, is a subtle point that reflects reality for many teenagers today.
Appropriate for ages 14+. Strong language and intense, violent situations.
Deals with self-image, bullying, abduction, prolonged sexual and psychological assault, and how we can find the strength inside to fight when all seems hopeless.
GET IT ON YOUR SHELF:
If you...- Enjoy a heroine with strong, clear goals and the backbone to reach them
- Are a fan of gut-twisting realistic fiction
- Know anyone who has overcome their abusers
- Need a book you can’t put down
- Have ever had to save yourself
YA contemporary suspense
Hardcover & Ebook, 304 pages
Publishing October 1st, 2013 by Harcourt (ISBN 0547942087)
(Review copy provided by and cover illustration courtesy of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.)