Cut by Patricia McCormick, Scholastic, Inc., 2000, ISBN: 978-0-545-29079-1
“You say it’s up to me to do the talking. You lean forward, place a box of tissues in front of me, and your black leather chair groans like a living thing. Like the cow it used to be before somebody killed it and turned it into a chair in a shrink’s office in a loony bin.” So begins the story of fifteen-year-old Callie, institutionalized in Sea Pines (which she calls “Sick Minds”) for cutting herself. At the start of Cut, Callie refuses help from anyone – her family, her therapist, the nurses, or the other girls in the facility. The girls are there for various reasons, some with eating disorders, some for drug problems, and a few for self-mutilation. Callie wants nothing to do with any of them and prefers to pass the time in silence.
Eventually, the warm and supportive atmosphere of Sea Pines reaches Callie and she starts to slowly talk, first to the girls and finally to her therapist (always spoken to directly as “You” but never given a name.) But talking turns out to be more difficult than staying silent. She must confront some of the other girls, whose behavior is spiraling out of control. Harder still, she must confront her own reasons for cutting and re-connect with her estranged family.
Cut is a short novel that deals with a psychologically complex subject. Without ever getting too graphic, McCormick helps the reader understand some of the reasons young girls cut themselves and how difficult the behavior is to control. Throughout the book, Callie is always on the look out for sharp objects she can use to self-mutilate. The pain and release she experiences is her way of managing emotions that overwhelm her. Her journey from silence to speech is the story of a recovery. McCormick indicates that the secretive nature of cutting is what allows girls to continue to do it and it’s only through talking about their problems that girls can get better.
Because McCormick writes in the second person (“You”) the reader feels like Callie is addressing him or her directly. This creates an intimate reading experience, as if Callie is confessing her secrets to the reader that she keeps from everyone else. The secretive nature of Callie’s problem also keeps the plot suspenseful as Callie reveals more and more about the reasons why she cuts herself. The mystery is resolved in the end in a way that feels authentic and real.
Contrasting with Callie’s story of recovery are the other stories of the girls at Sea Pines. Some of these girls are caught up in equally troubling circumstances and not all of them make it through therapy as successfully as Callie. Their stories offer a bleaker outcome for girls who struggle with anorexia, cutting, and drug addiction.
Fifteen-year-old Callie isn’t speaking to anyone about her problems. This makes her stay at the residential facility Sea Pines challenging and her treatment for self-mutilation more difficult. She must first learn to trust her friends and family with her dark secret or she will continue cutting and never resume her normal life.
Information about the author
From the author’s page on Amazon.com, we learn that, “Patricia McCormick is a former journalist, novelist and National Book Award Finalist. Cut was her first novel. Published in 1999, it has sold nearly 800,000 copies. Her other books, Sold, My Brother’s Keeper, and Purple Heart have received numerous awards.”
Young Adult Fiction
How are Callie and Amanda similar and different in their cutting behavior?
Which girls at Sea Pines do you expect to recover? What will help them?
Reading Level / Interest Age
Grade 9 and up
The novel deals with the topics of self-mutilation, anorexia, bulimia, and drug use. The focus of the story is on recovery from these conditions and does not glorify them in any way.
Why did I include this title?
I was looking for “short books” to use in an end-of-the-year book talk and one of my favorite students recommended this title. I had already read McCormick’s Sold and was a big fan of her work and so I read this in a few hours. It was a totally engaging and enlightening read.