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Tuesday, October 18, 2016

'Girl in Pieces' by Kathleen Glasgow

From the BLURB:

A deeply moving portrait of pain and survival.
A Girl, Interrupted for a new generation.
A New York Times bestseller.

Charlotte Davis is in pieces. At eighteen she's already lost more than most people lose in a lifetime. But she's learned how to forget it. The thick glass of a mason jar cuts deep and the pain washes out the sorrow until there is nothing but calm. You don't have to think about your father and the bridge. 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 to find your way back from the edge

A deeply moving portrait of a teenage girl on the verge of losing herself and the journey she must take to survive in her own skin, Kathleen Glasgow’s debut is heartbreakingly real and unflinchingly honest. It’s a story you won’t be able to look away from.

‘Girl in Pieces’ is the debut contemporary young adult novel by American author, Kathleen Glasgow.

I’d been hearing quite a lot of buzz about Kathleen Glasgow’s debut. Every blogger whose opinion I value was giving it 5-stars and warning that this was a book to break your heart and open your eyes, and now that I’m out the other side of it … they’re not wrong.

‘Girl in Pieces’ begins thus;

LIKE A BABY HARP SEAL, I’M ALL WHITE. MY FOREARMS are thickly bandaged, heavy as clubs. My thighs are wrapped tightly, too; white gauze peeks out from the shorts Nurse Ava pulled from the lost and found box behind the nurses’ station.    
Like an orphan, I came here with no clothes. Like an orphan, I was wrapped in a bedsheet and left on the lawn of Regions Hospital in the freezing sleet and snow, blood seeping through the flowered sheet.    
The security guard who found me was bathed in menthol cigarettes and the flat stink of machine coffee. There was a curly forest of white hair inside his nostrils.    
He said, “Holy Mother of God, girl, what’s been done to you?”    
My mother didn’t come to claim me.    
But: I remember the stars that night. They were like salt against the sky, like someone spilled the shaker against very dark cloth.    
That mattered to me, their accidental beauty. The last thing I thought I might see before I died on the cold, wet grass. 

And with an opening that raw and beautiful, I was hooked.

The girl lying on the cold, wet grass is 17-year-old Charlie Davis, whose father committed suicide, her abusive mother kicked her out of home and a tragedy has befallen her best friend – a tragedy Charlie seems hell-bent on repeating for herself. Charlie is institutionalised, and in diary-entry style the book takes us through her group therapy and release.

The comparison to Susanna Kaysen’s 1993 memoir hit Girl, Interrupted (which was adapted into an Angelina Jolie Oscar-winning movie) is absolutely spot-on, but with a perhaps more satisfying examination of why Charlie is existing on the fringe. There’s something generally about ‘Girl in Pieces’ which feels at once 90s retro, but with unflinching YA modernity. Glasgow’s book reminded me of landmark YA fiction – 1971’s Go Ask Alice or Cut by Patricia McCormick, and of Australian YA such as Diary of a Street Kid by Margaret Clark and the works of Scott Monk. It reminds me of the time when authors were first writing about the things teens weren’t supposed to be reading, let alone living … homelessness and drug use, self-harm and sexualisation.

Something about Glasgow’s writing also reminds me of Janet Fitch (and again that 90s feel, for her 1999 White Oleander in particular) mixed with a little How the Light Gets In by M.J. Hyland – it’s in the raw rhythm and cadence, the look-you-dead-in-the-eye grit on the page and for how these books share female characters who envision a single person can save them, but they eventually realise they need to save themselves and fast.

And yet it’s frustrating for me to keep describing Glasgow in terms of who she sounds like and reminds me of, because Girl in Pieces deserves praise for being utterly unique too, and Glasgow’s voice being a booming debut … it’s just, I think, that to read a first novel that’s this accomplished and assured has me comparing her to well-known writers and coming up baffled that she doesn’t yet have a backlist I can trawl through, a previous book to dive right into. How can a debut be this damn good? Where has Kathleen Glasgow been hiding all this time?!

This book hurts, but it’s what I call a ‘necessary read’ – for I feel better for having known Charlie Davis, and reading Kathleen Glasgow for the first (but surely not the last) time. This one is a favourite of the year, for me.


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