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Review of "Cut"

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 as Girl, 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.

The unabridged 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.

    Christian Perring, 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.

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