Title: Girl in Pieces
Author: Kathleen Glasgow
Publisher: Delacorte Press
Publication Date: August 30, 2016
Genre: Young Adult, Mental Illness
Rating: 4 Stars
Dear fellow Babblers,
This is a morbid story from the first page. Everything that happens is bad and rawly portrayed. There is no romanticization or good here. I was initially intrigued by the synopsis but was by no means prepared for what I read. This book was just so much to digest and take in, I had to put it down multiple times just to process the overwhelming darkness blanketing each page. Mental illness, suicide, self-harm, rape, love, abuse are all ever so evocatively described. Literally everything that happens in this book is a trigger for an even greater disaster than the one that preceded it. This book shows what happens when too much happens too quickly. Life becomes difficult to bear and an entrapping nightmare that blurs one’s perceptions of reality and the reality of their minds.
Charlotte Davis is in pieces. At seventeen she’s already lost more than most people lose in a lifetime. But she’s learned how to forget. The broken glass washes away the sorrow until there is nothing but calm. You don’t have to think about your father and the river. Your best friend, who is gone forever. Or your mother, who has nothing left to give you.
Every new scar hardens Charlie’s heart just a little more, yet it still hurts so much. It hurts enough to not care anymore, which is sometimes what has to happen before you can find your way back from the edge.
Charlie is a seventeen year old who has lived more than people manage to live in a lifetime. She was born as a girl in pieces in a small town in Minnesota. Her father was a depressed alcoholic whose internal demons lead him into the deep dark river forever. Her mother is just barely keeping herself alive. She neglects, harms, and gives up on life when her husband’s ends. And her best friend Ellis is dead. Well, not really dead like “in the ground” dead.” She cut into herself too deeply and now remains in a faraway home ghosting through life and death, never really one or the other. That leaves Charlie traumatized and serves as the first major event that spurts the destructive events to come.
The novel begins with Charlie’s stay in a psychiatric award called Creel, She arrives after a fallout in a girl trafficking house. She is haunted by Fucking Frank. Here, she has a warm bed, safety, and food three times a day. She’s no longer on the streets getting hit up with drugs and sleeping beneath park benches. All in all Charlie got the better end of the deal here. She falls deeper and deeper into herself, talking to no one else for days. She watches the girls around her cry, throw tantrums; suffer – all being victims of their mind, feeling relief only through self harm. When Charlie’s bandages come off she feels ready for the new her – she begins talking and cuts off all of her hair. Creely is the first stop into the whirlwind of tears that this 17-year-old must fight through.
Her destiny leads her across the country to the sunny desert of Touson, Arizona. Here Charlie wants to start over with her hear. But how can she when she only falls into the arms of more broken hearts. Charlie continues to meet strangers who plant their black seeds deep within Charlie, but Charlie is content as it is to at least be noticed. In long sleeves and overalls she Walks Into the Grit, a rundown and grungy coffee shop looking for a job. She’s greeted by the infamous Riley and manages to secure her hands as a dishwasher. It’s a bit downgrading, but it’s at least something. Charlie gets swept into Riley’s drug and alcohol-directed life. Her professional relationship with Riley makes a sharp turn very quickly. Maybe for the better, but in the end, turns out to be for the worst.
Charlie has already been through so much and should be in school, getting ready for prom like other high school seniors. But she doesn’t. She won’t. And she never will. Too much has happened and Charlie has too many scars to ever have anywhere to call home or anyone she can say she loves. Everyone she’s loved about up to this point has been teen taken away from her.
I really felt for Charlie. She wasn’t making fun or romanticizing her own illness which is often the case in many YA novels that address these sorts of themes. Charlie reasons with herself and tries so hard to not fall back into her past life. There are several moments when she expresses her sadness and inability to pull herself back up. It hurt as a reader to witness all of this because much of what Charlie says has resonance. Her traumas qualify her sagacity.
The writing style is perfect for this book: steady and sensual. The authors’s representation of mental illness and self-harm is highly representative of the ugliness of the disease and the truth that it is really a disease and not just some twisted way to get attention. All the characters in this book struggle oftentimes never are able to fightback there demons which seems to be the case with Louisa who sets herself on fire by the end of the book. Glasgow’s poetic writing renders this book both heartbreaking, but beautiful. It was slow, but that’s really the only best way to treat these subjects with caution. This book is more of a self portrait than an actual story. I wasn’t sure where the climax, rising, or falling resolution was because there was all just so much happening to Charlie. This is more of a panorama of the ugliness of mental illness than a story to consume, enjoy and walk away from. It leaves you with unanswered questions such as “What happens with Riley and Charlie?” “What about Blue?” “What was written in those mounds of composition books left behind by Louisa?” “Does Charlie ever become a professional artist?” There’s so many I could list here, but perhaps that was Glasglow’s intention: to leave us with questions followed by that moment of sudden epiphany and better understanding of mental illness, it’s affects, and the influence external factors can have on it’s formation and level of intensity.
Girl in Pieces is not written as a narrative but rather is incongruently separated by flashbacks, Charlie’s thoughts and events occurring in present narrative time. There doesn’t seem to be anything in particular that pulls together flashbacks from reflections to suspense aside from the inescapable sadness which seems to overshadow the solace Charlie seeks. All of the descriptions and vivid imagery Glasgow uses weaves each fragment of the book to the other without creating any confusion which is often the case when authors alternate between narrative time and voice.
I especially admired Glasglow’s decision to subvert writing a closed conclusion to Charlie’s story. The book does not end happily; it finishes just as grimly as it began. Although the story begins in media reis, fast forwarding to the point where Charlie, or Silent Sue, finds herself bandaged up in a psychiatric ward. We don’t stay long here as Charlie is released in only a matter of days and has it on her mind to start over in life and make up for lost time and dangerous mistakes in any way she can. In this way the reader is given hope for Charlie’s destiny which makes the book all the more heart wrenching. New beginnings. This is what ties the beginning of the story to the end. The last section of the book is by no means a close but rather an opening into Charlie’s road to recovery. I loved this because it gave a sad, very sad, story so much hope. All the characters – Charlie, Riley, Blue, Linus – all demonstrate some sort of mental strength showing that out of darkness, light is still possible.
I would not recommend this book to your regular YA fangirl/boy. The story runs very deep and must be read with very cautious eyes. Everything that happens, despite being a work of fiction, portrays very real and possible circumstances. There are people out there that find relief through self harm. It is not for attention or to make oneself look a certain way. It’s to make oneself feel somehow better by hurting in a different way than they are already hurting. The intensity of this book stands in perfect contrast with the slowness of it’s progression bringing together hope and hopelessness into a nuanced sameness.
(Book image credits go to Goodreads)