EMWF YA Reads

Bruised
Written by Tanya Boteju
Published by Simon & Schuster

A book review by Ashvini (17) and Noor (13)

Ashvini's Review

Upon first glance, Bruised by Tanya Boteju seems like a novel with a whole lot of teenage sass - and it is! - but ultimately, it is a book with so much heart.

Bruised follows a Sri Lankan-Canadian teenager named Daya Wijesinghe, who grapples with emotions of grief, anger and loneliness following the loss of both of her parents in a car crash. As a coping mechanism to deal with her feelings, Wijesinghe finds ways to intentionally bruise herself, using the physical hurt to keep the emotional pain at bay. When Wijesinghe is presented with the opportunity to become a part of a local roller derby team, she is excited by all the prospects to bruise herself. However, in joining, Wijesinghe finds herself becoming a part of a community for the time, and in doing so, reevaluating her idea of what it truly means to be strong.

As a reader, I found myself pleasantly surprised by Bruised for a multitude of reasons. I greatly appreciated how thoroughly unique this novel was - from the premise to the well-fleshed out, diverse, and funny cast of secondary characters - I have never read anything like this before.

I found myself audibly laughing during the scenes with two roller-derby obsessed grandmas (both seemingly with Jersey accents) and cringe-smiling alongside the protagonist in the scenes with her theatre-obsessed but well-intentioned aunt and uncle. It was refreshing to see so many adults healthily involved, supportive and playing the role of being a trusted adult to a teenager in a YA-novel in such a manner.

What was also a breath of fresh air, was the way that queer relationships were celebrated in this novel. Coming out stories that are emotional and perhaps even messy are important and a reminder of the realities that queer people face every day; that said, it brought me so much joy to see LGBTQ2+ representation woven into Bruised without question, rejection or belittlement from any of the main characters in the novel. I loved seeing these characters who are queer have their joy, romance and strong group of friends without any question of the validity of their identity.

For all of this lighthearted content, there are also a lot of heavy topics depicted in the story. The protagonist carries memories of some very traumatic experiences. We see flashbacks of her parents woven throughout the story and as a Sri Lankan-Canadian, one lyrical scene of Wijesinghe describing her mother putting on her sari - an armour - one day, particularly made me cry. Truly, Daya Wijesinghe’s development as a character is what is at the heart of this story.

At the novel’s completion, I was so proud of how this withdrawn and struggling teen metamorphosed into such a strong and loving warrior.

I deeply admire the way Boteju writes. I love that she chose to create this Young Adult novel with a Sri Lankan-Canadian girl, a brown girl, at the heart of it. I love the way she laced the identities and stories of so many people into the case of this novel and I can’t begin to say enough about the manner in which she beautifully balanced comedy, description and prose in channelling such a realistic teenage voice. It’s clear that she really loves and gets teens.

Bruised is really a story about what it actually means to be strong, something we don’t begin to acknowledge enough in our present society. This book is an important reminder to any teen, or as shown in the story…adult.

If I could ask Tanya Boteju any question, it would be this: What inspired you to write a story about the meaning of strength?

To sum up my thoughts on this book; I’m just so glad I was given the opportunity to read it.

Noor's Review

Can you tell us what this book is about?

Noor: Bruised is the story of Daya, a teenager who is trying to run away from her past. She feels so alone with her strange aunt and uncle and her strange new life. This is a story about self love and acceptance.

What do you like about this book?

Noor: This story was an emotional rollercoaster throughout, and very hard to put down. I love the way the book showed how there is more than one side to a person, and how there’s always a hidden story. Another thing I liked about this story was the representation of different races, sexual orientations, gender identities, and walks of life.

What do you like about the narrator/author?

Noor: The author of Bruised, Tanya Boteju, did a really good job with the pacing. At no point in the story did it feel slow or at all boring. At the same time, the book didn’t feel rushed either. Another thing I really liked and admire about the author was the representation in the story. It really felt like they did their research rather than just giving Daya a skin colour and a race.

What important messages/themes are present in the story and why would this appeal to a young adult reader?

Noor: Bruised is full of thoughtful themes. Throughout the book Daya learns to let go, to accept herself, to love herself and to love others. She learns that there are different kinds of strength, some of them more invisible than others. The way the author delivered these messages was impactful in a way that’s unforgettable. This story will always have a place in my heart.

Who would you recommend this book to?

Noor: I would recommend this book to teenagers, young adults and adults. There are some more mature themes in this book such as trauma, PTSD, and death. There are also some drinking scenes. If you can deal with these themes however, this book can captivate just about anyone.

If you could ask the author a question, what would it be?

Noor: Where, and how did you get the idea for Bruised? What message would you want your readers to take home with them?

Thank you Ashvini and Noor!


Tanya Boteju's Response

If I could ask Tanya Boteju any question, it would be this: What inspired you to write a story about the meaning of strength?

I teach high school students at an all girls school and I see so many of these young folks constantly trying to maintain some kind of idea of strength as stoic or tough or perfect--like the only way to show you're strong is to show you have it all together all the time. But the moments that really show me their strength is when they're vulnerable in their writing and in class with each other. I so appreciate how hard this is, but when students manage to get there, the moments are always so powerful! I wanted to write a story about someone moving towards strength through softness, vulnerability, and connection with others so that folks reading it might feel like they have permission to show that kind of strength, too. I want kids to feel like they can and should talk about their hard stuff with others!

Where, and how did you get the idea for Bruised? What message would you want your readers to take home with them?

I was literally just trying to think of what my next novel would be about, and having just come from writing KINGS, QUEENS, AND IN-BETWEENS, whose backdrop is the drag world, my brain was still thinking in terms of vibrant, progressive subcultures, I suppose. Roller derby was the first community/subculture that came to mind--I'd never played it (nor would I because I'm a big baby) but have admired it from afar and the more I thought about it, the more I realized how amazing it is. Then I started to think about what kind of person might be drawn to such a brutal sport, and what this person might gain from all that roller derby has to offer beyond its brutal nature--like community, self-expression, teamwork, and so on. And Daya was born!

To Ashvini and Noor: Thank you for your kind, lovely reviews and for your questions--your responses to the book mean so much to me!