An intensely powerful account of a teen, bullied for her port-wine stain, who must summon her personal strength to survive abduction and horrific abuse at the hands of a deranged killer.
Sixteen-year-old Sarah Meadows longs for "normal." Born with a port wine stain covering half her face, all her life she’s been plagued by stares, giggles, bullying, and disgust. But when she’s abducted on the way home from school, Sarah is forced to uncover the courage she never knew she had, become a hero rather than a victim, and learn to look beyond her face to find the beauty and strength she has inside. It’s that—or succumb to a killer.
Today is the day I’ve been waiting for my entire life—the beginning of normal.
I reach for the latest Seventeen and flip through its glossy pages until I find the perfect face. The girl is pretty, with wide green eyes, hollow cheekbones, and full, pouty lips. But what I notice most is her smooth, unblemished skin. It’s perfect. I cut the photo out and stick it above my bed, in the last of the space. Now I can’t even see the sunlight yellow of my walls—but the confidence that shines in these faces is even brighter. and today I’m going to get so much closer to that. I don’t care how much the treatments hurt; it’ll be worth it. It can’t hurt as much as the stares and rude comments I get every day.
I know I shouldn’t let people’s ignorance get to me. Mom’s always telling me I’m beautiful; that it’s what’s inside that counts. But she’s not living in the real world. Sure, whether you’re kind or good matters. But pretty people automatically get better treatment. ugly people get ignored . . . if they’re lucky. and me, I get stares, taunts, or people going out of their way to pretend they don’t see me.
I try to think of it as fuel for my comic scripts. all heroes have to go through personal trauma before they find their true strength—and most of them feel like outsiders even after they do. Like Clark Kent not being able to save his adopted father from a heart attack even though he’s Superman, and his never being able to share his entire self with anyone except his parents. Being an outsider, and always having people react to my face until they get used to me, hurts. That’s why I created Diamond.
I’ve always wanted to have meanness bounce off me the way bullets bounce off Superman. So I made Diamond’s skin as strong as a diamond; nothing hurts her. I wish I could be that way; even after sixteen years of this, I still get hurt. But soon all the disgusted looks and whispers are going to stop. I’ll be just another face in the crowd. No awkward silences when people look at me, no jokes or clumsy attempts at politeness. Just a regular teen who can fade into her surroundings if she wants to. I tuck the magazine into my backpack. Excitement flutters in my chest, light and frantic as moths. I wonder if I’ll be able to see the difference tonight. If other people will.
I touch my fingers against the smooth skin of my cheek. I can’t feel where the purple begins and ends, aside from it being slightly warmer, but I know exactly where it is—it spreads out
from the right side of my nose, almost to my ear, and comes down to my bottom lip in a lopsided triangle.
I know I’m lucky; it could be worse. The port-wine stain just misses my forehead and eye, which means I don’t have glaucoma, seizures, and brain abnormalities. But I still feel like I’m from another planet. Maybe that’s why I love comics so much. Superheroes are always outsiders, and most had difficult childhoods. They feel like my people. I finger comb my hair over the right side of my face. I know from long practice by the weight of my hair and the angle it falls, that it’s covering my cheek enough to help me pass. I don’t need a mirror to know. Not that I own one.
I grab my backpack. I’m too nervous to eat, and I used up breakfast time anyway, poring over Seventeen. I touch the Superman flying across my laptop screen, his face fierce and determined. “Wish me luck,” I whisper.
I rush down the stairs, almost tripping on the treads. “I’m ready!” I sing out. This is better than christmas morning. Better than any birthday I’ve ever had. I’m finally going to be like everyone else.
I rock to a stop on the bottom step. Dad is standing in the hallway, his face as pale as bone, his cell trembling in his hand.
“Daddy?” I whisper.
Mom is holding him from the side, one hand flat over his heart, the other gripping his back like she can keep him from
breaking apart. She’s whispering to him earnestly, her face pressed up against his neck. “It’ll be okay, Thomas.” Her starched shirt’s already wrinkled, and her mascara is running.
This is bad. Really bad.
“What is it?” I edge down the last step and swallow the lump of fear in my throat. “Daddy, what’s wrong?”
Dad doesn’t hear me. His eyes are wide, almost blank, staring like he can’t really see me. Mom turns her head—“Sarah, honey”—and stretches out her arm. She pulls me into a three-person hug, and I breathe in her orange-blossom scent, Dad’s spicy aftershave, his body odor, and, above all that, the metallic scent of fear.
Mom kisses the top of my head. “It’s okay. It’s going to be okay.” But her voice is high and strained, and Dad is trembling, shivers coming from deep inside him.
“Dad?” I press my cheek against his damp shirt.
Dad blinks. “Sarah.” He tries to smile, but it looks more like a grimace. “Honey.” His voice is rough with emotion. “We’ve got to cancel your appointment.”
“What?” I stare at him, unable to process his words. “We’ll rebook, right?”
“I’m afraid that’s out of the question,” Mom says primly.
I turn on her. “You promised me! You know how much I need this!” I jerk away from them both, Mom’s fingers tugging at my shirt.
The floor feels like it’s moving beneath me. No treatments
and my face will get worse. The best time for treatments is now, when I’m young. I really should have had them as a baby. They know that. They’ve read all the pamphlets and articles I printed out for them. My discolored skin is only going to get darker, thicker, even lumpy.
“Sarah, sweetie,” Mom says, reaching for me again.
I step back, glaring at her. “You did this!” I scream. “You never wanted me to get the treatments! You’re always trying to cram that inner-beauty crap down my throat. But guess what, Mom? People don’t care who I am inside; they can’t get past my face! I don’t know how you can pretend it doesn’t matter, when you never had to live like that! You can get anything you want because you’re beautiful!”
I clap my hand over my mouth. “I’m sorry, I—”
“You listen to me, young lady—not everyone is as shallow as you!” Mom yells, shaking her finger at me. “Looks aren’t enough in this world. and if you haven’t figured that out by now—” She lets her arm drop back by her side, her shoulders slumping. “Then I don’t know what to do with you.”
“Hey,” Dad says, shaking his head like he’s trying to dislodge water from his ears. “That’s enough, both of you.” He looks at me, his gaze coming back into focus. “Sarah, I know you’re disappointed, but you can’t talk to your mom that way. Now apologize.”
“I’m sorry,” I mutter, my voic...
A Bank Street College Best Book of the Year
"Sarah's determination to stay alive and escape will resonate with readers, and they will cheer her efforts to overcome her underdog status."
"Sarah's refusal to be a victim will stick with readers."
"Rainfield has written a novel of psychological suspense."
"Rainfield has drawn upon her own experiences to create a powerful and disturbing novel about the abduction and torture of a young woman that recalls recent horrifying news stories. . . . Readers will find Stained almost impossible to read and, at the same time, almost impossible to put down."
—VOYA, 4Q 4P S
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