Book Reviews

Bruised by Tanya Boteju: ARC Book Review

This is a spoiler-free review.

Bruised by Tanya Boteju

Expected publication March 23rd, 2021 by Simon Pulse.

My rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Whip It meets We Are Okay in this vibrant coming-of-age story, about a teen girl who navigates first love, identity, and grief when she immerses herself in the colorful, brutal, beautiful world of roller derby—from the acclaimed author of Kings, Queens, and In-Betweens.

To Daya Wijesinghe, a bruise is a mixture of comfort and control. Since her parents died in an accident she survived, bruises have become a way to keep her pain on the surface of her skin so she doesn’t need to deal with the ache deep in her heart.

So when chance and circumstances bring her to a roller derby bout, Daya is hooked. Yes, the rules are confusing and the sport seems to require the kind of teamwork and human interaction Daya generally avoids. But the opportunities to bruise are countless, and Daya realizes that if she’s going to keep her emotional pain at bay, she’ll need all the opportunities she can get.

The deeper Daya immerses herself into the world of roller derby, though, the more she realizes it’s not the simple physical pain-fest she was hoping for. Her rough-and-tumble teammates and their fans push her limits in ways she never imagined, bringing Daya to big truths about love, loss, strength, and healing.

Click for Content Warnings:

self-harm, trauma

Thank you to the publisher, Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers/Canada, and NetGalley for providing me with an e-ARC of this book. All thoughts are my own.

Bruised tells the story of Daya, a Canadian teen of Sri-Lankan descent, who is traumatized by the car accident that took her parents’ lives. Living with her kooky aunt and uncle, with whom she’s never had a close bond, and suffering from survivor’s guilt, she turns to self-harm as a means to manage her internal pain. So when her friend takes her to a roller derby event, she immediately feels a connection to the sport. Most notably because of the opportunity it offers her to hurt herself more frequently.

The title of this novel itself actually comes from this revelation. As Daya’s acts of self-harm take the form of accumulating a collection of bruises across her body. But there’s much more to roller derby than getting roughed up, and a lot more going on internally that Daya needs to work through. Feelings of grief that won’t go just away, no matter how many bruises she collects.

My interest was immediately piqued when I heard of this novel. The movie Whip It left such a strong impression on me as a young queer girl, that I’ve always been curious about the sport of roller derby. (Drew Barrymore and Elliott Page? A young girl’s heart can only take so much.) As a Canadian too, reading a novel actually set in my country is always an added treat. While this story did end up being a lot different than I anticipated, I’m still glad I had the chance to read it.

I do think it’s worth mentioning that if you do wish to pick it up for yourself, that there are a lot of descriptions of self-harm detailed within. The story itself can also get pretty heavy at times, more so than I had assumed it would when I started it. However, if you’re able to handle that stuff, I think it becomes a really worthwhile read.

Bruised is a powerful look at how strength can take different forms, and that learning to open up to hurt can lead to recovery.

While it was a little slow to start – and there was less roller derby in the beginning than I thought there would be! – that sort of worked here, because this story was less about roller derby, and more about Daya herself, coming to terms with her trauma and her survivor’s guilt.

The foundation of this novel – and its driving force throughout – really is the rich and diverse characters at its heart, not the sport they’re playing. I really loved the cast of characters in the novel, as they all felt like full, realized individuals, which often books with large casts like this lack. Honestly, I found it hard not to feel for almost all of them.

I also really enjoyed the romance between Daya and Shanti! ❤️ (Shanti was probably my favorite character out of the whole novel.) Boteju does a good job of showing how healthy relationships can make you a better version of yourself, which was awesome to see.

Overall, while I do think Bruised is not going to be every reader’s cup of tea – specifically because of the heavy focus on self-harm – I found it to be a good read that I thoroughly enjoyed. If you come into Bruised looking for a lighthearted story jam-packed with roller derby descriptions and references, you will leave disappointed. But if you come with an open heart and a willingness to see the messy, complicated journey of learning to live with trauma, I think you’ll be rewarded.

Have you read Bruised?

What did you think of it?

Let me know!

Liza is a twenty-something book blogger who spends way too much time with her nose in books and feels way too much. She loves cooking, baking, reality tv show watching and, of course, reading. She can be found most often with a cup of tea in one hand and a book in the other. Her blog, Literary Liza, features bookish content like reviews, recommendations, and author interviews.


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