My Favorite Scar

Image of My Favorite Scar
Release Date: 
January 23, 2024
Soho Crime
Reviewed by: 

“it doesn’t forget to be wise, beautiful, or lyrical even in the bloodiest of moments, never losing sight of the real story even as lives explode and everything appears to be over but the noise.”

Once in a while, a novel is just a novel. A life event set in a world retold. No 20 points of view, no jumping back and forth through time. No clever ploys of memory bought forth by too many flashbacks. No closure dragged into place by its figurative hair.

My Favorite Scar is just such a novel. A pure novel. Written by Nicolás Ferraro and expertly translated into English by Mallory Craig-Kuhn, the only pains it takes are those needed to remain steadfastly in the present action.

It is the story of Ámbar, a 15-year-old girl hanging on to the one parent she has left: her dad, a petty criminal traveling from Argentinian town to Argentinian town with a list of accounts to settle. Grievances with other petty criminals given to shooting to kill or maim, whose similarly hardened associates are not above using women as weapons, or as bounty in a war of patriarchal ego posing as street honor.

“Dad taught me how to remove bullets and sew up cuts when I was twelve. He taught me how to shoot at thirteen, and how to hotwire a car a few months later.

“If the bullet went straight through, infection is the problem. Cloth or bits of the bullet that might be stuck inside. I pour hydrogen peroxide over it until there’s an eruption of pink foam. He swears, but I don’t care. I take a close look. The entry wound is round, the exit wound looks like a pothole. A medium caliber, 9MM for sure. A .45 would have taken out a chunk, a .22 wouldn’t have made it through. At one point I was surprised—or scared—that I knew all this. Now I know it the same way I can identify a bird by its feathers, tell a bill is fake just by touching it, or know the difference between a garden snake and a viper by the scales on its head.

“Blood flows out like it doesn’t wanna be inside him. I pour more peroxide on it so I can see the wound. Dad grits his teeth and holds his breath. All I find is torn flesh.”

Thus, Ámbar follows her dad, cleans up his scars, and even covers him in a shootout with a shotgun she barely knows how to use because she believes the revenge list of enemy targets will get smaller, and that when they get to the last name, there will be no more leaving. No more fake names and abandoned school friends. She will get a tattoo without fear of being identified by someone. They will be able to stay put, give her mother a chance to come back for her, her race really one to believe that things can be better as much as one to refrain from asking questions when it seems like they never will.

“‘You could have killed him.’

‘Trust me. I'm not proud of it, but I've kicked enough guys to know when to stop.’

I roll my eyes.

‘What are you making that face for?’

‘You know when to stop? When we came here, you promised me it was over.’

‘And it is.’

‘It sure doesn't seem that way,’ I say and finally look at him. ‘What are we doing? Can't we... I don't know, go to another town and start over? There must be someplace you haven't...’ I falter, look for words, but finally use his: ‘ ...made anybody mad.’

‘That whole starting over thing doesn't exist.’

The sun peeks out and then hides, and our shadows, sitting on the swings, appear and disappear on the grass and the patches of dirt where people have dragged their feet. I can see them appear slowly, take shape, the chains, my hair, our feet, but just as soon as they sharpen up, the sky clouds over and it's like we aren't there anymore.”

That straightforward first-person narration tells the tale from start to finish, a welcome anchor in a story that tests our ability to hope along with the narrator’s, the reality of her world coming into focus with each gripping chapter while we hope for what she hopes.

Because despite all she has seen on that road to shedding her childhood, such as it is, My Favorite Scar’s Ámbar is delightfully smart and logical and quick, yet can still love, and be a friend, and want to protect her dad even though he doesn’t seem to be able to keep his promises or put her well-being above his own obsessive battle for power in a world in which power gets you, and those close to you, killed.

But the real ticking clock in Ferraro’s My Favorite Scar is Ámbar. She’s growing up, and we have a sense she’s at that point where she can be lost forever or saved just as easily by an unforeseen twist of fate.

“There’s a shooting star on TV. Two of them. Three. Below it a red bar that reads: The Columbia tragedy.

“On its return to earth, the space shuttle Columbia exploded in the air hours before landing. I can see a white line disintegrating into more lines, each with its own separate wake. If you didn’t know what it was, it would be pretty. A lot of people must’ve thought they were shooting stars and made a wish and a bunch of fire and burnt flesh.

“I think believing in Dad is something like that.”

My Favorite Scar can be brutal. It’s a violent road trip of a coming-of-age novel. It’s about family and betrayal and growing up into oneself and does it all in relentless forward movement, creating its sense of tension and pacing precisely, exquisitely.

And yet, perhaps its most impressive feat are not the many well-executed action scenes, or its ability to describe movement without having to slow it down, but rather how it doesn’t forget to be wise, beautiful, or lyrical even in the bloodiest of moments, never losing sight of the real story even as lives explode and everything appears to be over but the noise.