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A Burn Survivor's Journey to Healing in Debut Novel from Erin Stewart

Updated on October 4, 2019
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Cindy Hewitt is a retired teacher with a passion for children's literature. Read-aloud stories add quality to a child's life experiences.

A Touching Story of Healing and Friendship After a Tragedy

A touching story of survival, healing, and friendship
A touching story of survival, healing, and friendship | Source

Survival, Healing, and Scars in Everyone's Life

Erin Stewart's debut novel Scars Like Wings is a touching story of a teen girl's survival after a fire that takes her parents, her home, and her best friend. She also bears the physical scars on her face that resulted from the tragic fire. Stewart writes with compassion and feeling about her character's determination to make a new life for herself after the fire.

Ava Lee must move in with her aunt and uncle after a tragic fire burns her home and takes her parents. She also must face the loss of her best friend. A year has passed and her aunt and uncle believe that it is time for her to go back to high school and create a new life for herself after this tragedy. Ava is certainly not sure about finding friends because of the terrible disfiguring scars that affect her face. Ava feels that high school will be a huge challenge. There are verbal challenges as Ava faces taunts and stares from the other students for a few days. She experiences the fact that people stare and then look away. She feels that she is only known as the "burned girl." As introductions are made in class, Ava becomes acquainted with Piper, another burn survivor. Piper experienced a car accident and has scars from burns from the accident. This is the beginning of a new friendship for Ava. There is actually another student who can share the same feelings as Ava in coping with scars from a burn. Piper is instrumental in bringing Ava back into the world of "normal", whatever that may be. Piper's personality pushes Ava to become able to live again instead of hiding behind her scars. Piper later introduces Ava to a boy who shares Ava's interest in theater and Ava begins her journey back into her life. A life lesson of survival will touch readers who have scars from their own life, both visible and invisible. Life can be good again.

Scars Like Wings was published by Delacorte Press, a division of Random House Children's Books. It is recommended for ages 12 and up. It has an ISBN of 978-1-984-84882-6.

Engaging Interview With Erin Stewart

I had the privilege of submitting interview questions for Erin Stewart through email with her publicist. Her insights about her debut novel are engaging.

Question: "The title of your new book Scars Like Wings is very creative. How did you come up with the title?"

Erin Stewart: "The title is actually part of a poem by real-life Instagram poet Atticus that goes, "She conquered her demons and wore her scars like wings." He was generous enough to let me integrate his poem into a song that Piper listens to in the book, and also gets tattooed on her back along with bright, feathery phoenix wings. I just love the idea behind this line, that we can trun our scars into wings and use them to help us fly."

Question: "Did you do any research about how burn survivors deal with their injuries after a horrific burn such as your character experienced?"

Erin Stewart: "Oh, definitely! As I wrote this book, I felt heavily the burden of presenting an accurate, respectful representation of the burn survivor community. I spent a lot of time speaking with survivors, reading their stories, talking to doctors about wound care and recovery, and generally immersing myself in the terrible/wonderful/inspirational/reality of being a burn survivor. Learning about the physical and emotional pain of burns was gut-wrenching at times, but I wanted to present a story that went beyond stereotypes and pity to the reality of what it's like to live with physical and emotional scars like Ava's."

Question: "How did you decide about how your character Piper should be characterized as a new friend for Ava? How do you see your character Piper as a person with her own struggles and how she fits as a friend for Ava?"

Erin Stewart: "Piper's loud, out-there atitude is a great counterbalance to Ava's initial belief that her life is over after the fire. I knew I wanted Piper to be this person for Ava that could draw her out of her shell and remind her that she has a lot of living and loving left to do. Like a lot of people, though, Piper's bravado is hiding her own pain and struggles. And when she starts to push Ava away, too, we start to see how deep her pain runs. Both girls finally realize that they can have full, happy lives after their traumas, but they can't ignore the pain, either."

Question: "What do you see as the most important factors in your book that will inspire readers to overcome their own struggles?"

Erin Stewart: "Most readers who pick up Scars Like Wings will not be burn survivors, but I believe they will all be recovering from something. At some point, they will all be searching for normal after something knocks them off their feet and changes their world forever. I'd love them to see in Ava's story that finding "new normal" in the aftermath depends greatly on how much love we give and accept our lives. The fact is, we all have scars. We can't fix each other's wounds, but we can be stronger together."

Question: "Why do you like to write fiction that is based on real-life experiences?"

Erin Stewart: "My background is in journalism, so I think it feels natural to me to write stories about real people and real experiences. The world is full of so many amazing people and stories! Scars Like Wings was actually inspired by Marius, a friend of mine, who was burned and severely scarred by a house fire as a child in Romania. Now 20, Marius' story has always inspired and intrigued me, not only because of the power of his tragedy, but because he chooses every single day not to let it define him. He has had children run screaming from him. He has had bullies call him Freddy Krueger. I wanted to write a story that would go to these dark, lonely parts of tragedies like his, but also to the beautiful, hopeful parts. As Marius has told me, the only way he survived was because every time he wanted to give up, someone was there, helping him choose to live. I hope Ava's story can show readers that we all have a choice after a life-changing event. We can choose to be alone, isolated and angry that our normal is gone, or we can let people in and find a new normal, together."

© 2019 Cindy Hewitt


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