“If a girl punches someone, she’s crazy. If a guy punches someone, he’s dealing with his feelings. He’s normal.”I have to thank several friends for recommending Skilton’s debut recently; without their encouragement to pick it up, Bruised might have been quietly sucked into the black hole of my growing TBR list. Bruised is an insightful novel about a girl’s journey to redefine her sense of self in the wake of a traumatic incident. While suffering PTSD as a result of a diner hold-up, Imogen is compelled to confront what she believed to be fundamental truths about herself. Considering herself responsible for the gunman’s death, Imogen struggles to reconcile the reality of the event with her own expectations of herself. In some ways, Bruised reminded me of Elizabeth Scott’s Miracle, in its thought-provoking take on PTSD and the way it impacts self-perception. By failing to act when she believes she should have, Imogen’s sense of worth is undermined. The construct of herself as an empowered, disciplined and strong young woman is challenged by the fact that she froze under pressure, which drives a desperate need to prove herself. Under the weight of what she perceives as a failure, Imogen begins to pursue an increasingly self-destructive path in an effort to redeem herself. She wants a real fight, a chance to do-over the moment her mind, body and training betrayed her. Skilton’s characterisation of Imogen and the depiction of her internal conflict is effective: its sharp and visceral, and Imogen’s disillusionment is believable. Imogen passes through a broad emotional spectrum, and this progression is developed organically. Skilton is unafraid to push Imogen into some dark places emotionally, essentially stripping her back to a state of mental vulnerability and raw instinct, before allowing her to slowly reconstruct her life. This reconstruction is not only within Imogen, it’s also necessary in her core relationships: with her parents, her brother, her friends, and with Tae Kwon Do. Then there’s the boy who was also at the diner the night of the hold-up, the one person Imogen feels is able to relate to what she’s going through, and the burgeoning attraction between them. I felt the most successfully handled relationship development was that within Imogen’s family. She is emotionally distant from both parents for different reasons, and sees her brother as responsible for her estrangement from her former best friend. Skilton tackles each of these dynamics realistically, and I enjoyed the manner in which they progressed and their issues were addressed, particularly between Imogen and Hunter. Their sibling bond felt genuine, yet believably complicated. Most of all though, hats off to the author for allowing her teenage girl main character to respond to conflict in such a physical way. Imogen spends a considerable portion of the novel looking for an opportunity to test her ability to fight, a rematch of sorts. This quest leads her to make some poor choices (understandable in her situation), and also to try to get Ricky (her co-witness of the hold-up) to fight her. Imogen’s insistence on having someone engage in an no-holds-barred physical fight with her is not something commonly seen in YA, but Skilton navigates it well, addressing not only Imogen’s need, but Ricky’s reluctance to hit a girl, or be beaten by one. If this novel lost me a little, it was in the way some of the plot threads/conflicts were resolved. While I enjoyed the openness of the ending, and the place where the author left Imogen, I felt a couple of the closing scenes were a bit twee in their delivery, and not necessary to communicate that the characters were in a positive space. That said, the novel is tight and engaging. Although flawed, Imogen is a sympathetic protagonist with a compelling struggle. The romance and friendship subplots complement the story, while keeping Imogen’s internal journey front and centre. She develops as a character, yet there’s integrity to the way she is written; Imogen grows, but her core beliefs and strengths are not transformed, just adjusted. I appreciated Skilton’s dedication to Imogen in this way – allowing Imogen to keep those fundamental elements of her personality and principles. This is especially evident in the way the novel handles various attitudes towards sex. Skilton presents the characters’ perspectives without judgement or commentary – respecting the diversity of their experiences and choices. Bruised is an accomplished debut novel about navigating physical and psychological trauma, and the challenging of self-worth. It’s a respectful and knowledgeable portrayal of martial arts, relationships and the journey of a teenage girl to redefine her inner world.