Ms. Skilton’s novel was brought to my attention by a friend (also a writer) because the teenage protagonist is a black belt in Taekwondo and is trying to come to terms with her place in the world. My debut novel, Back Kicks And Broken Promises, which came out about a year before Ms. Skilton’s, is also about a teenage Taekwondoist trying to come to terms with his place in the world. Although the circumstances around their uncertainties are very different, it is through Taekwondo training that they come to some kind of conclusion. And, it is because of that that Bruised is a book that needed to be written and needs to be read.
Too often, books and movies about martial arts are about some kind of superhero or cop or spy battling against super villains as he or she tries save to the world. Bruised, on the other hand, deals with martial arts and the martial artist in a real way. Most of us who practice martial arts (I am a 28 year Taekwondo practitioner with a sixth degree black belt) will never battle any kind of villain, let alone a super one, while trying to save the world we live in. But we do fight. We combat those things in our own lives that infect our hearts and minds - villains like fear, uncertainty, arrogance, laziness - that challenge us every day. Ms. Skilton depicts this side of martial arts expertly and honestly, the way only someone who’s experienced it can. And, Ms. Skilton has, having earned her own Taekwondo black belt. Moreover, she presents an honest depiction of a teenager. Martial artist or not, Imogen is a typical teenager going through the common, but individually unique, set of trials and tribulations that come with dealing with family members during adolescence, the changing dynamic of best friends, and finding romance for the first time.
Another reason why I recommend Bruised is because it shows Imogen battling with the meaning of her black belt and the reliability of her fighting skills. This was particularly interesting to me for two reasons: 1. Back Kicks, in its early drafts, started out with that as its central theme and 2. speaking again as a martial artist, that’s something we all question at some point in our martial arts lives. Ms. Skilton organically puts Imogen in a situation that makes her question her years of training and her attempts to find answers and the resolution that Ms. Skilton puts Imogen through are nicely presented and true to the principles of what all martial arts teach. There is nothing cliché or predictable in how Imogen finds her place.
As a longtime and lifelong martial artist, there were two instances of inaccuracy in Bruised that made me crumple my nose. As a writer of fiction, however, I was able to sidestep them under the guise of literary license. I won’t point them out, however, leaving them for other martial artists who read Ms. Skilton’s book to find. Truly, they don’t really affect the story. Other martial artists will discover them, cringe for a second and be done with it. It’s when non-martial arts people read them and take them,perhaps, as fact that is my minor concern. As an experienced martial artists herself, however, Ms. Skilton may have intentionally added them as an illustrative device; depicting how teenagers, even though they may be knowledgeable and adept at something, still get things wrong. Heck, even adults do.
To end this review, I’d like to thank Ms. Skilton. I enjoy those ‘bang bang’ movies and stories about superhero martial artists and spies who have great martial arts skills. But, as I mentioned earlier, most martial artists don’t get to use their skills that way. Ms. Skilton successfully presents martial arts in their true light. While there are some really well written action scenes in Bruised, it’s Imogen’s use of the mental and emotional arsenal she’s attained that are the best and most rewarding scenes. Bruised is a book for those who like a little action in the stories they read, those who enjoy a good YA coming-of-ager, and those who like an internal, more literary, kind of story.
On a separate note, I couldn’t help from smile throughout my reading of Bruised because of the coincidental similarities between Ms. Skilton’s novel and my own. Imogen’s Taekwondo master is Grandmaster Huan. The grandmaster in Back Kicks And Broken Promises is Grandmaster Han. One of the main characters, what I like to call the ‘sub-protagonist’ or ‘second protagonist’ is Imogen’s love interest, Ricky. The protagonist in my book is also called Ricky. And, lastly, Imogen refers to and uses the character rules from Grandmaster Huan’s dojang (Taekwondo school) to help her understand what’s going on around her; mantra that guide her way of life and how she interacts with friends, family members, and teachers, and how she is supposed to behave in all sorts of situations. Perhaps it’s the nature of Taekwondo, more than other martial arts, because in all the arts I’ve studied Taekwondo is the only one in which some set of rules are recited at the start of every class. In my school and in my book, they’re called Mental Training and Ricky, the protagonist of Back Kicks And Broken Promises, refers to them constantly.