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by Patricia McCormick
Front Street Press, 2000
Review by Christian Perring, Ph.D. on Dec 11th 2001
Cut is a novel about a thirteen-year-old girl who cuts herself
and refuses to talk to anyone about why she does it, or about anything
else. Callie is in residential treatment program for teen girls, and she
talks to her therapist. Indeed, the whole book seems to be addressing
the therapist -- what Callie wants to say if she could, instead of just
sitting in silence, which is what she does. Callie tells her
story, and her experience with the other girls in Sea Pines, which they
call Sick Minds. The other girls are dealing with anorexia, obesity, and
drug abuse, among other problems. The girls are heavily supervised,
so that the anorexics don't make themselves sick, the druggies don't sneak
in illicit substances, and the self-destructive "residents" don't find
ways to injure themselves. But some of the girls manage to engage in the
prohibited activities anyway.
I've never been to a treatment facility for adolescents, and I've had
limited contact with emotionally troubled teens, so I'm not in a strong
position to judge the accuracy of McCormick's depiction of Callie's experience.
There's bound to be lots of variation in different people's experience
anyway, so it would be unrealistic to expect this novel to mirror what
happens to all girls in Callie's position. But McCormick does a good job
of bringing alive Callie's emotions and explaining why she is driven to
cut her skin.
Callie comes from a family with problems: her younger brother Sam has
a chronic illness, her father spends many evenings away from home either
on business or in a bar, and her mother is busy with her own chores and
responsibilities. Callie spent lots of time looking after Sam while her
parents were out, and it turns out that she blames herself for his illness.
She feels that she is just in the way of her parents, and she certainly
can't talk to them about her feelings. Cutting herself not only distracts
her from her other worries, but it makes her feel great for a few moments.
Maybe that's because of the rush of adrenaline, finally having control
over some aspect of her life, or finding a way to express her anguish;
what's clear is that Callie has great difficulty expressing her feelings
in any other way. Her therapy works by slowly getting her to talk about
what she feels, and by getting her to take responsibility for her actions
and her health.
There are some comparisons with other books about inpatient life, such
Interrupted and One
Flew Over the Cukoo's Nest, but this is set in 1990s America, (probably
Long Island), where here parents have to worry whether their managed care
company will continue to authorize Callie's continued stay at Sea Pines.
Also, unlike those works, this work is not critical of the way that the
main character is treated; it shows how Callie's psychotherapy eventually
begins to work, and it never even gets into issues of diagnosis. Callie
is not given medication and is never punished for her self-destructive
actions. Cut is well written and may be informative for girls
with problems similar to Callie's, and possibly even their parents. It
may be also be helpful to teens that have friends who cut themselves, and
want to understand them better.
audiobook version of this novel is done nicely; reader Clea Lewis
keeps most of the characters distinct and lively without making into cartoon
voices. It lasts four hours
© 2001 Christian Perring. First Serial Rights.
Ph.D., is Chair of the Philosophy Department at Dowling College,
Long Island. He is editor of Metapsychology Online Review.
His main research is on philosophical issues in psychiatry.
He is especially interested in exploring how philosophers can
play a greater role in public life. He is available to give talks
on many philosophical or controversial issues in mental health.