This is not the only book who takes death and grief in hand and tries to make sense of them through a child’s eyes. There are other works like the well-known The Heart and the Bottle by Oliver Jeffers or Cry, Heart, but Never Break by Glenn Rintved, as well as lovely light-hearted The Paper Dolls by Julia Donaldson and Rebecca Cobb. But The Scar is the first book that came in my way and since then I have never found any other that confronts death in the face with such genuineness and rawness of pain in adversity.
It tells the story of one little boy who has just lost his mother. Right from the beginning – “Mom died this morning” – it is not going to be an easy book to read. The boy himself understands very well why she died and what that means. The storyline evolves around how he deals with the aftermath effects of this loss through displaying his emotions, his actions and reactions, and his relations with living people. Like anyone else, the boy goes from bewilderment, denial, anger, grief and finally to acceptance. All these authentic stages of suffering are described in detail with a straight-forward attitude of ‘this is how it feels when you lose someone you love’. But what I find most endearing is that, as a little human, the little boy courageously takes on his new role of the carer who looks after the adults in the house. He does it with such honesty, pride and responsibility that it leaves a touch of humour and solace at the same time. That very detail reassures the faith in children’s capacity of resilience and strength in face of trauma.
The scar that he gets while running is used as a metaphor for his mental wound. It is also the liberation of his penned-up sorrow to the surface. Sometimes, the physical pain can be endured better than the mental one. The boy keep on scratching the open cut on his knees to remember his mother’s soothing voice until his grand-mother shows him how to keep his mother’s love near. Only then does he leave the wound to heal and gain his ability to move on.
The illustrations are simplified but expressive, without too much focus on elaborated details. Rather, the acrylics and pencil drawings concentrate exclusively on describing the feelings and emotions of the main character. Throughout the pages is the burning red colour like an overall expression of his fear that he will soon forget his mother as well as his anger and despair when he knows he cannot do much about it. Very often, red is used to symbolize the extremes, either energy, passion and action, or power, violence and aggression. In this case, the overwhelming effect of the colour signifies personal associations to the boy’s vigorous fluctuations of emotions and his deepest desperation to maintain his mother’s presence in the house, and also in his heart.