Deerskin, by Robin McKinley. The GoodReads summary:
Sometimes I’m just in a Robin McKinley mood, and nothing else will satisfy me. After rereading “Beauty” and “Rose Daughter,” I found I needed a little more Robin McKinley on top of that, so I reread “Deerskin.” “Deerskin” isn’t a book I’m often in the mood for. It’s not that is isn’t wonderful and beautiful and outstanding—because it is—it’s just that this book is such an emotional commitment. It takes a lot out of me to read about the terrible things Lissar goes through at the beginning of the book. And let me warn you, they are unspeakable—rape, incest, abuse . . . not things I can read about lightly. But I felt “Deerskin” calling me, and so I settled down, braced myself for the beginning, and dived in.
The brutality of what happens to Lissar always dominates my memory of the beginning of this book, but every time I reread it, I’m reminded that that’s not all the beginning is. The beginning is also Lissar making her first tentative steps to becoming her own person after a lifetime of being ignored, and learning how to interact with others after being secluded for so long. It’s also when she gets Ash, her dog and best friend. Although, “best friend” is perhaps too light a term for their relationship. Lissar and Ash are everything to each other, and even if you’re not a dog person, I guarantee you’ll become one for the duration of this book. Ash is just that amazing.
This isn’t a fast-paced book at all. It’s entirely about Lissar’s healing process and her very private, very personal journey back from the evil that was done to her. But it’s so freaking well done. McKinley writes about it in a way that gets you so invested and makes you feel so protective of Lissar. And I think her portrayal of Lissar’s road toward healing feels really believable—it’s slow and painful, with sometimes more steps backward than forward, but Lissar survives, and more than survives, she grows stronger. It’s amazing to see.
And of course, I have to make a quick mention of Ossin. Ossin is outstanding. He’s not your typical love interest—he’s not handsome and is overweight and spends more time with his dogs than fulfilling his princely duties. But, oh, Ossin. He’s patient and kind and understanding and gives Lissar the time and space she so desperately needs. I love Ossin for how good he is to Lissar.
While I love, love, love this book, I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it if you haven’t read anything else by Robin McKinley yet. In other words, read it, just don’t make it your first Robin McKinley book. Because it’s by far her most emotionally intense, and it deals with the hardest issues, so I think it may give you a slightly inaccurate perception of what McKinley’s books are like in general. But seriously, you won’t regret getting around to “Deerskin” sometime.