By Erin Stewart
Publisher: Simon and Schuster
Meet Ava. She was a normal teenager, a daughter, and a singer. Now she is the “burnt girl”. Due to being a YA and easy to read
After a horrifying housefire, 16-year-old Ava is left with severe burns to most of her body making her look unrecognizable to her own self. She is an orphan who ends up in the care of her aunt and uncle, who have lost their only child in the same event. As a parent, this premise is utterly terrifying. I found myself sympathising with the aunt, and over the course of the book finally understood how she could have such an overwhelming love for Ava, despite her being a reminder of what she had lost.
Back to Ava. Because being a teenager isn’t bad enough with hormones, social media, and bullies. Imagine starting a new school looking “different”. As the pages turn Ava evolves and she proves the saying “beauty is only skin deep” is still relevant. There is so much more to a person, and once Ava starts to open up and love herself, others do too. This is believable and although it is devastating, not once do you think “that couldn’t happen”. The author has done her research and shows the devastating impact (and subsequently amazing work by health care professionals), of burns.
This is an immensely thoughtful book. It is one everyone should read, especially teenagers, because it makes you think. And, keep thinking. You step in the shoes of someone else and see her bravery and her strength as she picks herself up and finds a new normal. She is a truly beautiful soul, and by the end of the book, you will think twice about (often unintentionally) judging others based on appearance. One good friend can make all the difference, and reaching out to someone could change their life.
As I said, as a mother this was hard for me to read and I must admit I checked that my smoke alarms were working halfway through. Maybe this is why I was so touched by this book. The message is empathy, and this is an important trait. While Ava is the butterfly in the story, her aunt and uncle are her rocks.
Thank you to Erin Stewart for writing this book, for making me shed a tear, and for penning something that will stay with readers. I will be saving this one for my kids to read when they are ready.