Book Review: Bruised

Bruised by Tanja Boteju


TW: Self-harm, emotional abuse, parental death, grief

Ever since her parents’ deaths in a horrifying car accident, Daya has pushed the world away. She’s repressed her feelings, choosing physical pain over grief, using bruises to push down her underlying guilt. Until she’s introduced to the world of roller derby, and discovers that there are different ways to be strong, and different ways to express your hurt. And that sometimes, it’s okay to go a different way.

This was fabulous. Highly, highly recommend.

I was underwhelmed by Kings, Queens and In-Betweens, mainly because I found the characters to be one-dimensional and the love interest a bland manic gothic nightmare girl, so I tiptoed into this one (convinced to smash that request button by the awesome blurb and the promise of queer roller derby), and I really, really connected with each and every single character in this one.

She needs to learn to stand her ground. To not let anyone get to her, Sunita. Fighting in the ring will teach her that. You know we have to work twice as hard. Be twice as strong.

Whew. Where do I even start with this review? Especially since it’s been almost a month since I finished the book, and all of my reviews have piled up because I just don’t know how to talk about this in any coherent way. And yet, since of leaving the review on read and just skipping along to my day, there was some about this that really, really hit hard with me.

Daya is first generation Sri Lankan-Canadian, and her father had to work his ass off in order to support his family (and his brother) in order to get a toehold in the Vancouver area. Because of this, her dad was determined to ensure Daya was strong as fuck, but strong in his own way. And Daya’s dad’s strength was deceptively strong, the strong where you build walls, suppress your emotions, become physically tough and distant and keep everything else out so you don’t get hurt. Mild spoiler, there is some heavy emotional abuse in this relationship, and the way Daya’s father pushes her is not healthy. His projections of his own fears and desires and anger onto her twists her own emotional growth, until she views everything not like him as weak, and herself as weak because she can’t keep up with his idealized version of himself. Okay, going to stop there because I’m reading farrrr to much into this.

Anywho. When her parents die in car wreck, Daya feels incredibly guilty because she was there and she survived (not going to spoil it completely but the twist isn’t a huge twist—you see it coming a mile away and it still will break your heart into a million, billion pieces because it wasn’t her fault at all, and yet you can still see how she’s rationalized it in her head thanks to the years of well, everything).

And how to do you make yourself feel kinda better, or assuage some of the guilt, particularly when you’re brought up in to literally beat the shit out of someone with your fists?

You harm yourself.

Physical pain=the simultaneous expression/repression of grief.

Because if you fuck yourself up enough physically, then emotionally it makes some small part feel just a little bit better, because you deserved to be hurt.

Roller derby is so much more than the sport; it is a community that strives to empower and revolutionize the way we see women.

I loved how Daya is initially drawn into roller derby—it’s chaotic, wild, and literally there are hips and elbows flying everywhere without any seeming rules or structure.

When she gets more involved with it, she begins to realize what it means to be part of a team. Previously, she’d been incredibly athletic and talented at boxing, but boxing is an individual sport and she was kept mostly isolated by her dad and his training regiment. So she’s got to learn how to roller blade, learn the rules of roller derby, and learn teamwork in order to get on (and stay on) the team.

But what makes it truly unique is that it is a full contact sport that has been created, developed, promoted, operated and led by women.

I really, really loved the supporting characters (well, all but one) in this book.

Daya has some truly fantastic friends and family. There are her aunt and uncle, who are grief-struck as well by the deaths and bewildered over becoming the guardians of a rebellious, checked-out teenager who just wants to skateboard and be by herself. I loved her aunt and uncle (note it’s been a month so I don’t remember any names), who are musical and theatre fanatics and are just so bubbly and delightful, and yet that bubbliness and overwhelming cheer is their coping mechanism.

I also loved Dee’s friends before she meets the roller derby girls. Pretty much that person is Fee, who is nonbinary and amazing (as is their mom), and Fee’s girlfriend (who is deaf!!! Deaf rep y’all!!!). And Fee and their girlfriend are brown, which is just so fantastic (pretty much everyone in this book is a person of color and/or queer, and I was so in love).

I also loved the OG Roller Derby Fanatics. Again, I can’t remember names, but these are the older adults who basically created roller derby and continue to champion it and support it and boost and welcome new players and fans. I so, so loved how supportive they were of Daya, and how they seemed to recognize (it’s very much Daya’s POV so you don’t really see what other people are thinking) that Daya was lost and grieving and that she needed something, and that that something was connection, family and healing.

I also loved Shanti, Daya’s love interest. Shanti is strong, too, but she’s not truly a roller derby girl. Her older sister, Kat, is the captain of the roller derby team Daya wants to join (The Killa Honeys), and it’s Kat Daya most looks up to, because Kat is everything Daya wants to be: tough as nails, a little bit cruel, a strong leader, and 100% confident (although what Daya doesn’t see is that Kat is Daya if she doesn’t get herself together). I did not like how Kat treated Shanti, and how Kat looked down on Shanti’s empathy and emotional intelligence like that was something weak and to be toughened up (I um, I was Kat, and still am Kat, which is why I don’t like Kat—I see myself in her and I do not like that part of myself).

Anywho, this is a really long review #sorrynotsorry

Bottom line up front (BLUF in military terms): this is a book about grieving and coping strategies and friendship and complicated family relationships. It’s about picking yourself up (and letting people help you up), and moving forward after a fuck-up. And it’s a little bit about roller derby, too.

This was definitely the book for me, although I so, so wish I had had it when I was a teenager.

Last thought: if anything I wrote here touched a nerve, this might be the book for you, too.

I received this ARC from NetGalley for an honest review

Bruised releases March 23, 2021, from Simon Pulse

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