“Callie’s first-person account of her stay at Sea Pines, a mental-health facility, is poignant and compelling reading… McCormick’s first novel is powerfully written. Not for the squeamish, the young women’s stories avoid pathos and stereotypes. Shelley Stoehr’s Crosses (Bantam, 1991) and Steven Levenkron’s Luckiest Girl in the World (Viking, 1998) dealt with cutting, but Cut takes the issue one step further–to helping teens find solutions to problems” (Richmond, 2000).
While much shorter than Jennifer Niven’s All the Bright Places, this book deals with very similar themes: mental illness, self harm, and hope for recovery. The story focuses on a young woman named Callie, who has just entered a treatment facility known as Sea Pines (known to the patients as “Sick Minds”). While there, Callie meets a wide assortment of interesting characters: Tara and Becca, who suffer from anorexia and bulimia; Debbie, who over-eats; Sydney and Tiffany, who have problems with drugs; and finally Amanda, who self harms like Callie. Though Callie begins the story refusing to speak, she ends up opening up to her counselor (who she refers to in second person throughout the novel) and her new-found friends at the facility, proving that there is hope for recovery even in the darkest of places.
I was surprised, after reading this, to learn that Patricia McCormick had never self-harmed. Though I have never even considered self-harm myself, Callie’s thoughts and mindset seemed incredibly real to me, as if McCormick had crawled into the brain of a cutter in order to extract her thoughts. While this book was a little too short for my tastes, and moved far too quickly, I could definitely see this being a good fit for a reluctant reader. It’s very easy to read, and seems to really capture the mindset of sick teens without sensationalizing their illnesses. None of the characters seem perfect, and all have what seem like very complicated journeys on their road to recovery. Again, while I can’t attest to the accuracy of those journeys, the entire book felt very real and down-to-earth. I loved how, even though Callie refuses to speak for half of the novel, we are still allowed into her thoughts; she sees the world with a sort of dark humor that I really appreciated, and I found myself rooting for her as the book went on.
Much like Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak, this novel deals with the concept of a character who is afraid to speak up about her issues and the things that are bothering her. In fact, Callie spends so long giving everyone the “silent treatment” that she is almost sent home in favor of someone who might actually show progress. Like with All the Bright Places, however, Callie’s illness is seen as being almost lesser than the asthma her brother suffers from. This can be seen throughout the novel, as Callie mentions feeling almost jealous of the attention her brother receives for having a visible illness. Her mother also mentions that their insurance will not “cover things that are self-inflicted” (McCormick, 2011, p. 17). This presents a sad truth about mental illness, one that I can personally attest to: our society tends to view mental illness as being lesser than “real” health issues, and something that is much easier to control.
I, personally, have faced this stigma myself, as I suffer from both anxiety and occasional bouts of depression. My insurance provider refused to pay for counseling after only a couple of visits, and my own family (though they try to understand) wonder why I can’t just “get over” feeling anxious or depressed. Though Callie’s family is supportive of her recovery process, they too seem to be confused by her self-harm, unable to understand why she does it and why it’s so hard to stop. For teens suffering from mental illness, this book provides a quick read full of characters for them to relate to, though none are quite as focused on as Callie herself. There are teens suffering from eating disorders, drug addiction, and self-harm, and all of them seem realistic and well-written. A teen facing similar issues would most likely be able to find a familiar face in at least one of these characters, which makes this a powerful book for reluctant readers who prefer realistic fiction.
If I were to recommend this book for library or classroom use, I think it would provide a great starting point for any discussion about mental illness or self-harm. A counselor might even be able to use this to help a patient connect to Callie’s story, thus allowing the teen to open up about his or her own experiences. As McCormick puts it in her author’s note at the end, books like Cut often give a voice to teens whose own experiences have been sealed away:
“The girls at S.A.F.E Alternatives gave me their blessing to publish the book. In fact, they were really pleased to see that their experience – something cloaked in secrecy and shame – would be put into words. With their own recoveries underway, they hoped the book would lead others struggling with self-injury to feel less alone and get help. By giving Callie a voice, they said, the book was giving them a voice” (McCormick, 2011, p. 157).
The fact that McCormick visited actual teenagers struggling with these issues in order to get their blessing to publish her book is, in my opinion, one of the many reasons I truly believe it could help someone facing similar struggles. McCormick mentions that the girls she visited were shocked (like I was) to learn that she had never had never self harmed, as Cut spoke so deeply about their own feelings. Though some parents or school officials might be reluctant to put this book in the hands of teenagers, I think it’s incredibly important for them to have these types of stories because it shows them that they are not alone.
More important than that, perhaps, is the fact that Cut portrays a journey to recovery; it does not glorify self-harm or make it seem like something that is “trendy” or “cool.” Though Callie’s road to recovery is by no means perfect, this book gives its readers hope that self-harm can be survived; it does not define a person, and it is something that can be healed from. This might not have been the best book in the world, but I appreciate the message it provides for teens (and anyone else, for that matter) who might feel helpless, ashamed, or afraid to speak up to someone else about the demons currently plaguing them.
McCormick, P. (2011). Cut. New York: PUSH.
Richmond, G. (2000, December). Cut. School Library Journal, 46(12), 146.