Reviews of Girl in Pieces, Suicide Notes, and Boy on Hold
All of these novels are YA novels with mental health themes including self-harm (cutting), suicide (cutting), psychosis, and drug abuse.
Girl in Pieces by Kathleen Glasgow
The Premise: Charlotte Davis is in pieces. At seventeen she’s already lost more than most people do in a lifetime. But she’s learned how to forget. The broken glass 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.
A deeply moving portrait of a girl in a world that owes her nothing, and has taken so much, and the journey she undergoes to put herself back together. Kathleen Glasgow's debut is heartbreakingly real and unflinchingly honest. It’s a story you won’t be able to look away from.
My rating: 4/5 stars.
The writing is really well-done with beautiful imagery. I could see this as a hit-or-miss voice, though-- if you don't like heavy metaphors this may not be the book for you. The story is powerful and important and overall well-done. Glasgow did a great job conveying NSSI (non-suicidal self injury). This includes showing motivations of coping and control rather than what is often assumed-- attention. I liked that this book, and the mental health journey, was bigger than a romance plot or too cookie-cutter, too dismal or too hopeful.
While I appreciate the intimate relationship between mental health and substance abuse, I did feel that this book was trying to take on too many Tough Topics at once. Similarly, there were too many characters who were not described enough. At first it added some tension to keep the reader reading, but eventually it just became frustrating. A smaller issue-- to me there wasn't a reason the book needed to be split into three parts, but this didn't really affect me, just struck me as strange.
As others have mentioned, this book, like any covering intense mental health issues, could be triggering.
Suicide Notes by Michael Thomas Ford
The premise: I'm not crazy. I don't see what the big deal is about what happened. But apparently someone does think it's a big deal because here I am. I bet it was my mother. She always overreacts.
Fifteen-year-old Jeff wakes up on New Year's Day to find himself in the hospital. Make that the psychiatric ward. With the nutjobs. Clearly, this is all a huge mistake. Forget about the bandages on his wrists and the notes on his chart. Forget about his problems with his best friend, Allie, and her boyfriend, Burke. Jeff's perfectly fine, perfectly normal, not like the other kids in the hospital with him. Now they've got problems. But a funny thing happens as his forty-five-day sentence drags on: the crazies start to seem less crazy.
My rating: 3/5 stars.
To me, this was a bad rendition of Its Kind of a Funny Story. Most of the book is really slow-- I thought about not finishing multiple times. Its supposed to be tense with the mystery around why Jeff tried to kill himself, but it wasn't tense because I frankly, didn't care enough about him to need to know. The voice is immature for a 15-year-old, including his nicknames for staff and his attitude. I think the stream-of-consciousness worked well for his voice but made Jeff's not telling about why he killed himself even more frustrating and unrealistic.
The saving grace of this story is the ending (ie why he tried to kill himself). Not only is this unfortunately common, its not often written about, including from the perspective of a male-identifying individual. More than that, Jeff's attitude and personality changed at the end so it was easier to read.
There are scenes that are clearly sexual assault and yet this is not called out or condemned which is SUPER problematic, especially for the LGBTQ+ community wherein prevalence of assault is higher. Similarly, while the context of Jeff trying to kill himself (being gay and rejected by his crush, his friend's boyfriend) makes sense, especially since it encompasses a feeling of identity rejection, his not having a history of any suicidal thoughts make this come off as unrealistic. Suicide *rarely* occurs after just one event, although an event can be a tipping point. To me this perpetrates the fear around suicide and promoting the idea that one event/conversation/etc can cause it, limiting people's desire to intervene.
Boy on Hold by JD Spero
After witnessing a brutal attack next door, seven-year-old Hen swears his teen brother Tyler had nothing to do with it. But Tyler's terrifying psychosis complicates the truth. Will Hen convince everyone of Tyler's innocence, or will he lead his family into an even darker place? An award-winning thriller, Boy on Hold is a character-driven murder mystery set in a small Adirondack town. Celebrated by fans of amateur sleuth mystery novels like The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time and Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine.
My review: 4.5/5 stars.
I really enjoyed a lot of aspects of this book, from being a YA but staying away from the horrible-parent trope, the well-rounded characters with clear goals (beyond just protagonists), the mystery and suspense, and the tough themes this book tackles from multiple points of view that lend a completeness not often found in fiction.
Spero is clearly a talented author and her writing is strong and compelling. The only negative--I feel conflicted about the 3rd person close narration. Thematically it fits well, and prevents the confusion of switching between 1st person narrators. However, I personally get taken out of the story more with this POV, which was a shame since the plot and characterization is so well-done.
All-in-all, I think this book is unique in a lot of great ways, staying away from cliches, written beautifully, portraying deep characters, and engaging with important themes.