September 28, 2013


by Cheryl Rainfield
Harcourt Children's Books/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
304 pp.
Ages 14+
Release date October 1, 2013
Reviewed from advance reading copy

Sixteen-year-old Sarah Meadows has always focused on the port-wine stain that covers the right-side of her face, determined to get the surgical treatments so that she might become "normal".  The debilitating impact she has experienced because of it has compelled her to live vicariously through her comic character, Diamond, to hide behind a curtain of hair, and to only hang out with other social outcasts. But the very day she is to start treatment, her father learns that someone has embezzled so much money from his graphic design company that there isn't enough to pay a bank loan and her surgery.

At school, Sarah has to share this unexpected news with her group of friends: Charlene who is overweight and the brunt of her father's verbal abuse; Gemma, a lesbian; and Nick, who is considered a geeky "doughboy" by others, though Sarah considers that,
"They don't care that he's kind, smart, and good natured, and sort of cute in a soft, chubby way, with messy, sandy hair that's always falling into his eyes and a quick smile. All they see is his weight and his social awkwardness." (pg. 15)
When Nick narrates a chapter, he emulates the same sentiments about Sarah, calling her beautiful and wishing she could see how amazing she is.

On the way home, a bullying incident has Brian Gormley, her dad's cute assistant, coming to her rescue, offering to help and drive her home.  Though she declines, feeling that "Something isn't right" (pg. 35), Brian grabs her, drugs her and locks her away, with a padlocked leather blindfold on.  He claims that he will help her and her parents by giving them "freedom from the pain in their lives" (pg. 84) as he has done for others.  Thus begins a tortuous imprisonment of months in which Sarah endures physical, sexual and psychological abuse at Brian's hands.  Worse is Sarah's ignorance of the efforts being made to find her, especially by Nick and her parents, with the duplicitous Brian even offering assistance.  Nick becomes relentless in pursuing every lead possible, outdoing the seemingly ineffective efforts of the police.

Throughout Sarah's imprisonment, she attempts to understand Brian's motivations, determined that she would not "let Brian's lies become my reality." (pg. 154) As she attempts to appease him, Sarah is actually becoming emotionally stronger, learning how to handle him and manipulate situations as she can. It's ironic that the very manipulation Brian accuses Sarah of instigating to derive guilt from her parents is a skill she develops courtesy of his abuse. Though he may see her as becoming weaker and submissive, Sarah continues to look for any means to save herself, recognizing that she "has to get herself out, not wait for someone to save her." (pg. 179)

Cheryl Rainfield has courageously admitted that she has drawn on her personal experiences to write Stained (see original Stained release announcement ), emphasizing the positive attributes of courage, perseverance, and self-reliance rather than on the trauma.  This becomes self-evident from the tag line for the book,
Sometimes YOU have to be your own hero.
But just as important is self-acceptance, as Sarah, Nick and her friends learn.  They might all see the "better side" of life for those who are beautiful or slender or popular, but a crash course in introspection makes them realize the superficiality of those attributes and the absence of any relationship with goodness.  The beautiful Brian Gormley is a prime example of a revolting inside to an oft admired exterior.  Sadly for Sarah, this lesson must come at the cost of her freedom.

Not an easy read, Stained will have young adult readers both cringing for the physical, sexual and emotional abuse Sarah must endure and cheering for her efforts and determination to survive, recognizing that her Stained face has only been masking, temporarily, the hero within.


Look for posts shortly regarding Cheryl Rainfield's book launch for Stained and her take on improving body image.  In the meanwhile, check out Cheryl Rainfield's video explaining why she wrote Stained  here on YouTube.

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