At age seven, Matthew North was kidnapped by a child predator. He was held for eight years, raped and abused, until the man let him go. After trying unsuccessfully to reacclimatize to life and his family, Matt has spent the last ten years living on a remote island off the coast of Florida. He lives a solitary life with his cats, working from home and rarely interacting with anyone, except for the regular meals he has at the local tiki bar.
Vedie Wilson is also hiding away on the island after escaping an abusive family back in Boston. They could not accept that Vedie is gay, but even more, they could not accept that Vedie often wants to show his feminine side by wearing women’s clothes and makeup. While Vedie is not as reclusvie as Matt, he has also learned to be very wary and to protect himself emotionally, as people are rarely kind to those they see as different. He works as a busboy at the restaurant Matt frequents and surprises himself by propositioning Matt one night — and Matt surprises Vedie in return by accepting.
The men spend the night together, but it is pretty clear to Vedie that Matt has some major issues, and when he freezes up in the morning, Vedie assumes that will be the end of things. But Matt surprises Vedie once more by offering to take him in when an aggressive coworker threatens Vedie in his home.
Matt has no idea why he is letting down some of his walls with Vedie; he knows he is a broken man and there can be no future for them. But for some reason, he enjoys Vedie’s company when he hasn’t been able to stand being around other people in years. And Vedie manages to calm and soothe Matt when he begins to lose himself to the memories and pain from his past. Vedie is unsure about things with Matt, knowing that Matt may not be capable of an actual relationship. But Matt accepts Vedie unconditionally just as he is; he doesn’t seem to care that Vedie sometimes feels like a man and other times wants to let out his feminine side.
The guys slowly settle into a relationship, or at least the closest thing to one the two men can manage. But Matt is still not sure he can ever be ready for something real between them; he may not be able to let go of the demons of his past that still shape him. But when Vedie finds himself in danger, Matt realizes that he can not lose the man he has grown to love.
Scarred by Mia Kerick is an intense story about two deeply troubled men. Matt’s scars are much more on the surface, both physically and mentally. His body still bears wounds from his abuse, but he is also just barely functional at an interpersonal level, and often just fades out, disassociating his mind and body. His journey is the hardest, because he has to learn to socialize again, to share his life with someone, and to take steps to almost force himself to adapt as he falls for Vedie and realizes that he wants a life with him. You can’t help but feel for Matt, because he is trying so hard, but the baggage from his past is almost insurmountable. For his part, Vedie is much more lively and sociable, but he has a near constant fear of being rejected, or even hated, for who he is. I am not totally clear on how Vedie would identify himself, if he ever really chose to. I would say gender fluid is the best explanation for the purposes of this review, though Vedie does say he sees himself as a man. He just has a very strong feminine side, one that he has to express at different times, both through dress and through his demeanor. The label isn’t really important here; the point is just that Vedie knows he is different and feels the judgement from others all the time. So he is hiding away from his family and has a hard time letting down his walls with other people.
So both of these guys clearly have issues they are working through, and I enjoyed seeing how they were able to find a sense of ease and comfort, and ultimately love, with one another. You can’t help but be happy for them as they find their way out of dark paths to something better. So I found that rewarding and I think that Kerick does a really nice job establishing these characters and giving us a sense of their fears and passions and what motivates them. I also liked seeing the growth that both of these men go through during the story.
I did have some challenges, however. First off, I have to warn you that we get a lot of detail on the horrors that Matt suffered while he was kidnapped. The chapters start with journal entries covering about a ten-year span where Matt is working through things emotionally by putting them on paper. Some of these passages were incredibly hard to read. I’ll be honest, there were times I had to skim them because I just could not read about a seven-year-old boy being raped and abused. Although Matt writes with some detachment, as a reader it was not easy to get through. These sections do serve to give us a sense of what has shaped Matt to the person he is now, but honestly, I could have gotten that from a lot less detail on the abuse. I would have been much more interested in knowing how Matt has survived the intervening years since he was let free, and more importantly, why he decides to take a chance on Vedie’s offer that night. Nothing about Matt (including the fact that he has been with only women since his attack), suggests that he would suddenly take this stranger up on his offer. Matt can barely interact socially with waitresses he has known for years. So I felt confused as to why he goes off with Vedie, and this lack of clarity made it a bit hard to get into the relationship early on.
For his part, Vedie has had enough people treat him horribly in his past that he is pretty much always braced for the worst. He is kind of a prickly guy, which is understandable, but he jumps to a lot of conclusions with Matt, always assuming that Matt’s distance is judgment, rather than Matt’s own issues. Matt accepts Vedie pretty much unconditionally, but Vedie has a harder time doing that in return. I got why Vedie is so sensitive and anxious, but between his fears and Matt’s own issues, it made it really hard to get into the relationship between these guys because there are both so unable to really share their feelings with each other. It didn’t help that Matt would sometimes think back to his abuser during intimate moments with Vedie. These scenes are meant to show how these men are connecting with one another emotionally and physically, and thinking of a child rapist at the same time was a turn off and again made it hard to connect to their relationship.
As a side note, the blurb for this book calls it a “novel of gay romantic suspense” and I will say I do not consider this story romantic suspense at all. Yes, there is point at the end where Vedie is threatened and there are some suspenseful moments, but it is a few pages out of a long book. I thought these scenes were well done as it really crystallizes things for Matt, but don’t go into this book thinking you are getting a romantic suspense because that is definitely not how I would describe this story at all.
In the end, I thought this book was well done and I loved the way it concluded. I was happy for both these men that they were finding their way to a better life together, particularly Matt who you can’t help but want to see find happiness. There was a lot here that was hard to read, however, and the book spends a lot of time focusing on the issues these two men have. At times it dragged somewhat for me as it takes a while to move forward. But I think the book is well written and if you are able to handle the intensity, the story can be rewarding.