A debut novel sees a girl coming to terms with the defining facial scar that has ruined her standing at school.
Eighth-grader Karina Morgan has a terrible scar on her forehead, the consequence of a childhood accident she can’t remember. Karina is smart, but the scar has made her life difficult. It creates a first impression that most people can’t move past. The cool girls at school bully her. The boy she’s into thinks she’s a freak. Karina has only one real friend, Mary Blair, and is resigned to being an outsider. One day, however, down by the creek, she discovers a secret cave fashioned just for her. She meets an old man—a “bleached-out, hippie Santa Claus”—who opens her mind to the concept of reincarnation. All of a sudden, Karina finds she can see people’s souls: the underlying character that is the product of past lives and which exists now in either harmony or conflict with each present life. Her new insights prove valuable. She sees how Mary is suffering from the residual angst of her previous life. Karina understands finally why her brothers are always fighting. She can help them; she can cause them to reconcile. But can she search through her own soul’s past? Can she face her own scars and heal herself? The author leads with a quote from Lewis Carroll, but while Karina’s experiences are in a measure fantastical, they lack the whimsy of Alice’s adventures. This may preclude Mann’s novel from becoming beloved, yet it also gives it a relevance that Carroll never had. Middle-grade and YA readers should identify with Karina, not just because of her scar and its consequences, but also for the maturity she shows and her fortitude in dealing with family and school life. In speech and action, all of the author’s characters seem drawn from life. The prose, though at times digressive, is clear. The story develops quickly enough and sufficiently to hold interest. One problem is that Karina’s journey (vis-à-vis reincarnation) strays somewhat from a plot-driven narrative and into more philosophical realms—almost to the point of proselytizing. Whether this strengthens or weakens the book, though, is perhaps a matter of taste. Regardless, Karina proves a memorable reading companion.
Speculative idealism grounded by its real-world setting; a likable, modern-day parable.