Written by: Kathleen Glasgow
Release Date: September 6, 2016
Pages: 416, hardcover
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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 thick glass of a mason jar cuts deep, and the pain 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 the kind of intense dark book that, I think, some people will only be able to read in quick bursts, and others would prefer not to read at all. The main character, Charlie, has a lot of things heaped onto her–abuse, the loss of her best friend, homelessness, and self-harm are just a few. Kathleen Glasgow does not pull punches. Nothing is easy, and every bit of Charlie’s upward progress feels earned, narrative-wise. And I have to give her credit, because Charlie’s voice, her struggles, and her growth still ring so true that the book was still able to hit me hard in the emotions like it was supposed to.
Even if dark contemporaries normally not your kind of book, I recommend giving it a try. From the distinct characters to the gorgeous poetic prose to the focus on female relationships to the message of hope, Girl in Pieces is an extremely powerful novel, one that I think will help many people.
Pacing-wise, I feel like Girl in Pieces could have been about fifty pages shorter. The middle section, particularly the parts dealing with Charlie and Riley’s relationship, was on the slow side and I think it got just a bit too repetitive. While it should be noted that for the mast part this book did NOT feel like pain for the sake of pain, I think this section approached the closest to that kind of atmosphere.
As I said, I’ve read a lot of books dealing with self harm, and one problem I’ve found with them is that the main characters tend to run together. I am very happy to say that Charlie stood out. I loved that she was quiet and reserved, and that this didn’t go away when the book ended, but that she found her voice nonetheless. I loved the moments of humor in her inner monologue and how hard she was willing to fight. I love how real her struggles and setbacks felt, and how much it made me cheer her on.
The female relationships in the book were so important! From the best friend she loved and lost to the angry woman in her therapy group (who turns out to be fiercely loyal and loving) to her artist landlady with a tragic past to her recovering alcoholic supervisor at work, Charlie meets and develops bonds with a variety of women who affect her journey in so many ways. Charlie comes out of the hospital hoping for romantic love to save her, but her friendships with other women turn out to be so much more important.
(On that note, I don’t know if this was the author’s intent, but I definitely read Charlie as bisexual.)
After Charlie leaves the hospital, she meets Riley, who gives her a job at a coffee shop and has a heap of issues. From the synopsis and his intro, I kind of expected the relationship to be romanticized, but it wasn’t! The toxic aspects (the age difference, Riley’s drug use, Charlie accepting his terrible treatment of her because she doesn’t think she deserves better and Riley taken advantage of that) are all addressed in a very nuanced way. Riley’s addiction is presented sensitively, but never in a way that excuses his actions. I finished the book not really sure how I felt about Riley as a person, but very satisfied with the direction his and Charlie’s stories had gone.
One last thing I’d like to address is the writing, which is lyrical and emotional and sends chills down my spine. There are subtle shifts in both writing style and chapter length that match with Charlie’s mental state at the moment, something I appreciated.
I would definitely recommend this if you’re in the mood for a nuanced, unique, moving dark contemporary with an amazing voice.