As this novel opens, seventeen-year-old Charlotte (“Charlie”) Davis is waking up in the self-harm unit of a hospital, and thereafter gets transferred to a psychiatric facility.
Charlie is a girl who cuts herself, because, as her doctor says, she has internalized abuse and blames and punishes herself for the painfulness of her life. Such hurt can come from many things, such as sexual, physical, verbal, or emotional mistreatment. When the bad feelings build so much a person can’t deal with them, he or she starts cutting. But the “treatment” unfortunately spirals into more bad feelings. As Charlie herself understands:
“…the fucked-up part is once you start self-harming, you can never not be a creepy freak, because your whole body is now a scarred and charred battlefield and nobody likes that on a girl, nobody will love that, and so all of us, every one, is screwed, inside and out. Wash, rinse, fucking repeat.”
Charlie initially cut herself to make herself and her bad thoughts disappear:
“OUT. CUT IT ALL OUT. Cut out my father. Cut out my mother. Cut out missing Ellis. Cut out the man in the underpass, cut out Fucking Frank, the men downstairs; the people on the street with too many people inside them, cut out hungry, and sad and tired, and being nobody and unpretty and unloved, just cut it all out, get smaller and smaller until I was nothing.”
She explains, “I need release, I need to hurt myself more than the world can hurt me, and then I can comfort myself.” It hurts, she says, but “when the blood comes, everything is warmer, and calmer.”
Eventually, because she has no money, she is discharged from the safety of the psychiatric center. Her mother doesn’t want her, but gives her money for a bus to Tucson, where Charlie’s friend Mikey lives. There is much more pain ahead for her in Tucson, but also friendship, redemption, and hope. But it’s never easy. Charlie has to work hard to stay ahead of old comfortable ways of dealing with pain and setbacks. And sometimes she slips.
You may be thinking, I can’t read this, it would be too hard. But oddly enough, this is an uplifting book, and not because of any easy out. The author herself was a cutter, and she knows, and conveys, that there will always be struggling, and recovering. But Charlie is a character you can’t help rooting for, who has a survival instinct that helps her keep pushing forward.
In an Afterword, the author writes about the real world of cutting. As she has one of the characters argue, “People should know about us. Girls who write their pain on their bodies.” She reports:
“It’s estimated that one in every two hundred girls between the ages of thirteen and nineteen self-harms. Over 70 percent of those are cutters. It’s important to remember, though, that these statistics only come from what’s reported, and they don’t account for the increasing percentage of boys who self-harm. It’s my guess that you know someone, right now, who self-harms.”
She emphasizes that self-harm is not a grab for attention. Nor does it mean you are suicidal. It is a coping mechanism: “It means that you occupy a small space in the very real and very large canyon of people who suffer from depression or mental illness.”
The author says to any self-harmers reading her book:
“You are not alone. Charlie Davis’s story is the story of over two million young women in the United States. And those young women will grow up, like I did, bearing the truth of our past on our bodies.”
Charlie finds a way to reconstruct herself in this book, just as the author did. This is a gritty story, but inspirational and very worth reading.
Evaluation: This could be considered a “coming of age” book about a girl who struggles with finding a sense of self-worth after feeling lost and as if she is underwater. Somehow, she has to figure out a way to make it to the surface, and stay there. This poignant and affecting story is highly recommended.
Published by Delacorte Press, an imprint of Random House Children’s books, a division of Penguin Random House, 2016