I didn’t want to read another story about a girl in a psych unit, a girl locked up for having emotions that don’t fit, a damaged adolescent with so much pent-up rage that she self-harms, or self-medicates, or self-poisons or self-starves.
But “Girl in Pieces” hooked me. Novelist Kathleen Glasgow has an original character in Charlie Davis, a 17-year-old cutter with a fierce instinct for survival. Glasgow laces this difficult story with flashes of black humor and a clear-eyed view of her characters.
We meet Charlie in a St. Paul psychiatric facility after she almost bleeds to death in a drug house. Her best friend has almost killed herself. Her family has kicked her out. And she’s seen terrible things living on the street. Unlike girls sent to treatment by wealthy families, some for indefinite stays, Charlie has nowhere else to go.
The novel’s early chapters take us through the familiar rituals of treatment: The disorienting arrival. The cast of misfits. The remote therapist. The numbing routine. “Meds come after Group, then Quiet, then lunch, then Crafts, then Individual, which is where you sit with your doctor and cry some more,” Charlie says.
Glasgow tells the story in short bursts, just enough to thread us through Charlie’s trauma, enough that we can catch our breath, and keep going. And there are those jabs of dark humor.
“They really ask a … lot of you in this place,” Charlie says, after her therapist pushes her to feel her emotions through her still-healing body.
Charlie’s story takes a right turn after the facility kicks her out when administrators realize she has no insurance. With no family to return to, she ends up on a bus for Tucson, Ariz. There she falls into a job at a coffeehouse, and into a relationship with a “semifamous” musician who is battling his own demons.
Charlie’s new home is one of artists and outsiders, many looking for their own safe place to land. As she slowly sheds protective layers, she learns to find alternatives to her “tender kit,” the shards of glass that were her refuge when the world hurt too much.
Immediately after its release, “Girl in Pieces” landed on the New York Times young adult bestseller list. Its arc of self-healing is familiar, but Glasgow kept the story just enough off balance to hold readers’ attention to the last page.
Trisha Collopy is a Star Tribune copy editor.
Girl in Pieces
By: Kathleen Glasgow.
Publisher: Delacorte Press, 416 pages, $18.99.
Event: Glasgow will be at the Twin Cities Book Festival on Oct. 15 at the Minnesota State Fairgrounds.