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The Merciful Scar by Rebecca St. James and Nancy Rue

About the Book:Book - The Merciful Scar
Author: Rebecca St. James and Nancy Rue
Publisher: Thomas Nelson
Publication Date: September 2013
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Genre: Fiction; Women’s Fiction, Christian, Contemporary Fiction
Rating: 3 ½ out of 5

Review: There is a difference between fiction that deals with a traumatic past and fiction that revolves around ones mistakes. This new piece of fiction falls into the painful trappings of the latter. When first we meet its heroine, Kirsten (a girl who may not be in the title but is certainly the person the title is all about), she’s a seemingly happy college student who is living a good life with a doting boyfriend and friends. It isn’t until her dreams fall apart and her boyfriend, Wes’ betrayal is revealed that her dark past and propensity to hurt herself physically that we learn not only does Kirsten have a whole world of guilt she carries, she also is lacking a support system to help her escape the metaphorical chains that pull her down.

From the moment I first saw this novel listed on Goodreads, I knew it was a book I’d have to read. Being a fan of Rebecca’s since she gave an interview on a conservative talk show – which prompted me to purchase one of her albums and in the following years to read her books that tackled the tough issues for young Christian women, meant that I was eager to read Rebecca’s first foray into the world of fiction. Like any good novel, I think the characters are well developed and in particular, Kirsten’s self-injury plight is not something to be taken lightly and will probably resonate with more people than I would care to imagine. That’s the most heartbreaking thing about Merciful Scar, coming to realize this is a reality rather than fiction and getting an up-close and personal look at the life of a talented, pretty young girl who think resorting to self-injury is what will offer her relief is a jarring thing.

Much as I wished to like if not “enjoy” this novel, I have to say, it wasn’t quite what I wanted – hoped, it to be. The opening pages start persuasive, fascinating the reader to discover more about the complicated girl whose thoughts we’re inside, however two chapters in and things become even more complicated, and quite honestly take a turn for the “worse.” Instead of a usual first person narrative, there was an inner-thought voice that the text refers to as a Nudnik and, well, I am not quite sure what this was meant to demonstrate. Is this merely Kirsten’s conscious and self-doubt speaking? Or is it something more sinister meant to represent evil, temptation trying to lure her deeper into darkness? Early on, it’s as if it was meant to imply the latter, lending a more sinister bent to it plus it explain why Kirsten succumbed so easily to the places she did. Later, I began to merely read it as an inner-voice Kirsten learned to quiet – and in empowering her own self-esteem, “control.”

There is a lot that was good about this novel. None of the characters have it “all together” yet by taking something that was broken or in need to saving, each person again found purpose. Once things began to get moving the relationships are a joy to read about and learn from as the pain of everyone’s past slowly heals. What’s best about this novel isn’t that it isn’t “neat,” it’s messy and the characters, concepts and prose reflects that. Though satisfying in a rudimentary sort of way, the ending also does not reflect perfection or necessarily true happiness. It leaves us hopeful, but not sure of anything – and in such a dark story, I’m not sure how “good” that kind of conclusion is.

Synopsis: Kirsten has spent her life trying to forget. But mercy begs her to remember.

When she was in high school, a terrible accident fractured her family, and the only relief Kirsten could find was carving tiny lines into her skin, burying her pain in her flesh. The pain she caused herself was neat and manageable compared to the emotional pain that raged inside.

She was coping. Or so she thought.

But then, eight years later, on the night she expects her long-time boyfriend to propose, Kirsten learns he’s been secretly seeing her best friend. Desperate to escape her feelings, she reaches for the one thing that gives her a sense of control in the midst of chaos.

But this time the cut isn’t so tiny, and it lands her in the psych hospital. Within hours of being there she knows she can’t stay–she isn’t crazy, after all. But she can’t go back to the life she knew before either.

So when her pastor mentions a treatment program on a working ranch, Kirsten decides to take him up on the offer and get away from it all. But the one thing she can’t escape is herself–and her shame.
The ranch is home to a motley crew, each with a lesson to teach. Ever so slowly, Kirsten opens herself to embrace healing–even the scarred places that hurt the most. Mercy begs her to remember the past . . . showing her there’s nothing that cannot be redeemed.

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With thanks to Fiction Addict and the publisher for providing a complimentary ARC copy of this book for reviewing purposes. 

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