Girl in Pieces
Title: Girl in Pieces
Author: Kathleen Glasgow
Published: 30th August 2016
Number of Pages:
Start Date: 8th April 2022
Finish Date: 29th April 2022
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.
This is a book about survival. The horrors of physical survival when you are homeless: getting food, daily shelter, remaining safe in the unprotected dark. It is a book about emotional survival and how one teen works through the pain of abandonment and abuse. How she deals with the scars that her family, strangers, and even friends have etched into her heart. It is a book about embracing your art & your voice, finding a way to set the beautiful parts of you free in the world. Girl In Pieces deals with this truth so beautifully. Too many books end with the character entering therapy and a false *nudge* to the reader that the character will then be miraculously cured of their ailment. Instead, the majority of Girl In Pieces takes place after Charlotte leaves the nest of therapy, and it explores the many, many, many, step ups and step downs to living with her tornado. It's chillingly real, hauntingly beautiful, and above all; a necessary narrative.
For Charlie, that was her drawing. Her art was her language, and it was beautiful. Although this book tells a story of people being cruel to themselves, it is a book about being gentle with yourself. It seems odd to call this novel kind, as it was often a savage read (it is unflinching in its portrayal of self-harm, homelessness, addiction, and desperation) but it has such a sweet heart, such a piercing desire for its characters to improve themselves in every way, that hope persists in even the darkest moments. Whether it's dealing with self-harm like the protagonist Charlotte, or an ED, or depression, or chronic illness, or alcohol addiction, or ANYTHING, recovery has no endpoint. You live with your physical or metaphorical scars forever. Yes, there are highs and lows. Yes, there is plenty of hope that you can be much better off ten years down the line, but when you battle with anything so deeply destructive and chronic, there is no such thing as "all the way better."
Girls, and all people, who are trying to OVERCOME need this narrative. Girls need this narrative. They need to not hate themselves for being unable to achieve the myth of "all the way better." They need to know, and perhaps more importantly their friends and caretakers need to know, "all the way better" is a myth. When someone suffers from any type of chronic mental or physical disorder or addiction, it will always be with them. They can pull their life together, but the threat of falling backwards will always be hiding in the corner. Society needs to readjust their understanding of what "recovery" means, and I genuinely believe Girl In Pieces is a book that will help with that understanding.
Charlie's narrative is poignant yet incredibly captivating. The reader is introduced to Charlie's character as she is brought into the institute, bleeding and abandoned after trying to end her own life. Her grief and longing are palpable, my heart ached for Charlie and her sense of abandonment. Self harm is her coping mechanism, using broken fragile pieces of mason glass to lacerate her arms, mutilating her body as tenderly as she creates her art. Charlie may have recovered from her physical anguish but her emotional scars remain and she becomes a fatality of the mental health system, the institute no longer able to treat the seventeen year old due to the lack of financial aide and releases her into the care of a mother who has no intention to care for her daughter.
She's haunted by many demons; her father, her best friend, her relationship with her abusive mother, her time spent on the streets. Charlie carries scars both emotional and physical; she's a cutter, which is her way of dealing with the pain, and her skin bears the marks of her trauma. As she struggles to make a new life, Charlie has to learn to live in her own skin and make peace with herself, even as external influences threaten to bring her back to dark places. While Charlie is in therapy, her counsellor reminds her to breathe. I had to remind myself to do just that as I read these pages because I wanted so badly for Charlie to survive. I wanted to heal her and comfort her and make the world a better place for her.
Charlie's journey is confronting. Her Tender Kit she holds dear but determined to not only survive but flourish against adversity which begins with the kindness of Michael. Although Michael and Charlie were once friends, Michael can only provide Charlie with the bare necessities to survive while he's away. With a warm bed and the security of Michael's bungalow, Charlie's employment search finds her washing dishes at a small coffee house where Riley is regrettably employed.
The charismatic and charming Riley, a former musician whose life is a calamity of alcohol fuelled drug dependency, provides Charlie with a tenderness of a physical relationship beyond the confines of an intimacy. While Charlie begins to rebuild her life, Riley's addiction threatens to consume him. Riley was an interesting character. Although I didn't particularly like his character, it felt as though so many in his life enabled his drug and alcohol abuse and he held an heir of entitlement. Their relationship was toxic, but an incredibly important pinnacle in Charlie's journey.
Charlie's character represents so many young women within our communities. Girls who have been abused, who haven't been afforded the opportunity of a loving family, to experience kindness or sanctuary. After her father was cruelly taken from her, her mother became her tormentor and precursor. Glasgow's use of adult characters to challenge, support, and mirror the teen characters is genuinely inspired, and the resulting fictional neighbourhood dynamic felt intensely real. Girl in Pieces prioritises characters and their complicated truths in a similar way.
The first thing that gripped me about this book was the writing. Glasgow’s style is so thick with emotion and yet sparse on the page. In places, it reads like poetry. I was immediately drawn in by Glasgow’s words, the book’s atmospheric setting. Then there was the character’s struggle with her sense of self, her mistrust of others. Charlie’s pain was so pervasive that it felt like layers of gauze being stripped away from a wound. Layer after layer we see what and who has hurt Charlie. Glasgow is an artist when it comes to building tension, revealing the ache. And there is a lot of ache in this book. My chest felt tight with fear and compassion for Charlie, a homeless 17-year-old cutter.
I'd probably recommend this one for older teens and adults who read YA, not because I believe in shielding kids from content, but because the characters in this novel make nuanced and morally grey decisions that might render them unlikable to a less experienced soul. I know I would have judged the narrator more harshly at 13 than at 18, and that would have been a shame.