Girl in Pieces is Kathleen Glasgow’s debut novel. It’s narrated by Charlotte (Charlie) Davis, a seventeen year old young woman and opens when her naked, bleeding body is left, wrapped in a sheet, at the door of a hospital in the sleet and snow of a Minnesota winter. She is soon placed at a special residential treatment facility for people who harm themselves, who burn, stab or cut themselves, using physical pain to manage psychic pain.
It’s no mystery why Charlie is in pain. Her father killed himself, her mother beat her, her best friend is brain-damaged after emulating Charlie’s cutting, going too far and too deep. She’s fled to the streets and the dangers of the street overwhelm her. This story is about her slow and tentative efforts to climb out of the abyss.
So many of these stories can have an after-school special kind of dogmatic earnestness, but Girl in Pieces is anything but preachy. It has an authenticity that comes from the author’s own experience as a cutter. Experience she felt ashamed of for a long time. In a note at the end of the book, Glasgow tells of a personal failing that haunts her and inspired her to write the book. She saw a young girl on the bus with scars like her. The girl felt her looking at her, pulling her sleeves down in embarrassment. Glasgow did not have the wherewithal to tell the girl that she too had those scars, that it gets better. She wrote Girl in Pieces for her and all the others who self-harm and their friends and family.
I liked this book. I liked Charlie and her friends. Event though family failed her, there were people who were kind, who supported and helped her. The story moves quickly. “In the past forty-five days, I’ve tried to kill myself; been put in a psycho ward; been shipped across the country; got a job washing dishes in a dumpy coffeehouse; and now I’m lurking in the house of a weirdo with an apparent drinking problem.” That kind of sums it up, except of course, it’s so much more interesting.
We’re in Charlie’s head and it’s a very interesting head, curious, intelligent, questioning and plagued with self-doubt. She wants love, she needs love and has been disappointed by her parents. Her father loved her, but depression and despair were stronger. Her mother loved her, but was broken herself. Her friends love her, but they too have their own problems and finding their own way. With such need, Charlie needs to figure out how to be her own best friend and learn how to get out of herself, to reach out to those who are willing to help.