Skin Deep by Laura Jarratt, Electric Monkey Books, 2012. ISBN: 9781405256728. Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS
First off, this book was an unexpected reward for raising a daughter who not only loves to read, but knows what her dad will love to read. My younger daughter, a teacher in a Bronx charter school, got this at a library book sale, read it and realized I would want to read it. She was absolutely correct.
Jenna’s caught in a painful limbo. Less than a year ago, she was riding in a car with her best friend and four other teens when the driver, high on alcohol and marijuana, lost control after hitting black ice. Two girls, including her best friend, were killed and she was trapped, barely extricated before dying. Her face was terribly burned and even with therapy and skin grafts, she can’t face herself in the mirror and cringes every time someone looks at her and makes a face. Steven, the driver, got off with a slap on the wrist. Jenna’s father started a group to make it harder for teens to drive under the influence and the family is continually harassed by Steven and his sleazy buddies.
Ryan is equally wounded, but his are invisible, his mother is bipolar, he never knew his father and they’re constantly moving to somewhere new on their narrowboat that plies the English canals. He’s never gone to school, never been able to make friends and has had to endure the extreme highs and lows of his mother’s illness. He’s a seventeen year old, forced to act like a parent who desperately needs someone to care for him.
When Jenna’s puppy runs off while they’re on a late afternoon walk, the dog finds Ryan in the process of washing the boat’s windows. Puppy knocks his wash pail into the canal and refuses to obey Jenna, resulting in the two of them coming face to face. Jenna runs off, but when her emotions settle, she realizes this boy is the first person who has really looked at her without reacting in horror or disgust. As much as she wants to avoid him, she can’t stop thinking about his not being freaked out.
What follows is a quirky friendship that morphs into a wonderful romance, one that flourishes despite Ryan’s initial involvement with another girl, friction with Steven and his cronies and parent problems on both sides. When Steven is murdered, both Jenna’s father and Ryan are suspects. The way the crime is solved, the heartbreak when Ryan and Jenna have to separate and the feel-good ending make this a compelling read.
This is a true gem that blends mystery, romance and recovery from pain both physical and emotional into a great read. While people die, there’s nothing in the story that would be problematic for either teens or mature tweens.