Warning: this book/review contains reference to self-harm which some may find distressing.
Author: Eve Ainsworth
Published by: Scholastic
Publication date: 2nd March 2017
Pages: 288, paperback
Genre: young adult, contemporary, mental health
How can you heal if you can’t face your past? Confident, popular Gabi has a secret – a secret so terrible she can’t tell her family, or her best friend. She can’t even take pleasure in her beloved skateboarding any more. And then one day an impulse turns to something darker. Gabi has never felt so alone. But then she learns that not everyone has wounds you can see. A searing look at self-harm and acceptance from hugely talented author Eve Ainsworth. Warning: includes content that some readers may find upsetting.
I have been looking forward to reading Damage since I heard about it back in January, at Scholastic’s Bloggers’ Book Feast. This is a book about a girl struggling with self-harm – having read Eve Ainsworth’s previous two books, Seven Days and Crush, I know that she is an author I can trust to write about such an important topic in a way that is both sensitive and interesting. And I was not disappointed.
I enjoyed the complexity of nearly all of the characters. I liked that so many of them had their own issues that needed addressing, even if it wasn’t covered during the course of the book. Although she felt that she was alone in her struggles, it was clear that so many of her loved ones had their own issues, and I think that showing that everyone carries their own ‘damage’ was one of the most important messages of the book. This is with the exception of Alfie, who at times I felt was more of a plot device, responsible for highlighting various points in Gabi’s story. Nevertheless, I still thought he was a likeable character, and was very far from being one-dimensional. There is something to be said for having a teenage male character who is erratic in the most ordinary way.
Something that stuck with me throughout the book is the totally raw and realistic characterisation of Gabi. For example, at the beginning of the book, she cannot see the male attention she is receiving as her self-esteem is simply too low to allow her to. However, this isn’t portrayed in the cliched, ‘look-how-cute-and-modest-I-am’ kind of way (which, when I do see in a book, frustrates me so much). Her lack of confidence is shown in a completely negative light, as it is obvious to the reader that this is just another factor in her mental health struggles. So much about this book de-romanticises aspects of mental health that are so often incorrectly represented in novels, and in that way, this was truly heartening to read.
A key theme in this book, for me, was the theme of grief. A big part of Gabi’s issues stem from the grief she feels at losing her grandfather. This then fuelled the upset between Gabi and her mother, and Gabi within her own mind, creating the huge amount of emotion in this book. I really enjoyed that there were frequently chapters to expand on the relationship between Gabi and her grandfather, as it made the entire plot so very emotive to read.
I think Damage is an enlightening and highly accessible read. It covers a few important themes in detail throughout the book, and touches upon many other along the way. This is the kind of book I feel I could recommend to a parent, a peer, and someone younger than me.