I will be talking about self-harm.
Please do not read this post if this could be a trigger for you.
The wonderful thing about this year’s Diversity Month was how generous publishers were in sending me so many different books to read. One such book was Girl in Pieces by Kathleen Glasgow. I was very excited about this book.
I’ve never talked about the scars on my arms on this blog before and most likely I won’t again. I also don’t plan to go into a lot of detail about this. The why is too long and the how is something that is irrelevant to this post. What I do want to share are two moments;
- When I first began cutting, (I was 13 or 14 at the time,) a family member noticed. Their response was: “so you’re into self-harm now.” That was the sum total on the subject despite this continuing until adulthood (to be fair, I did begin hiding my arms more).
- Much later, after I hadn’t self-harmed for a long time but wasn’t doing well, I told a GP I was worried I was going to start again. His responded by telling me that cutting was so common now that razor-blades were actually handed out, but as I wasn’t planning on killing myself (and so wasn’t in danger at that time) we didn’t need to worry. I left in a daze. I still can’t fathom this to be true and can’t find any evidence supporting his statement.
Both of those instances have stayed with me as WTF-moments. Self-harm is an incredibly complex issue. Finding books that deal with the subject well is important to me. It provides an opportunity for better understanding someone who isn’t in your shoes and of course, finding a story that you identify with, one what makes you feel you are not alone is always wonderful.
Girl in Pieces by Kathleen Glasgow has the potential to be that book for people. I liked the writing from the start and the voice of the main character is so alive, but I couldn’t finish it. I wasn’t prepared for how I would feel reading Girl in Pieces. The text became too descriptive. Of the feelings, the injuries, the cut cut cut. It made my skin itch.
A few years ago, I read Scars by Cheryl Rainfield, I bought it partly in protest after another idiot article saying that books like Cheryl’s encourage teens to cut and how dark and dangerous YA fiction was. (Seriously people it does not work like that.) I love Scars. It’s a great book that gives readers an understanding of the emotions entangled with self-harm. Yet at no point did I find it triggering. I’ve gone back to check over the text and it doesn’t create the same reaction as Girl in Pieces.
If, like me, you’re a reader who has triggers then you will probably have self-censorship. I chose to stop reading Girl in Pieces not because I didn’t like it but because the text brought me too close to a place I didn’t feel ready to be. For many others, Girl in Pieces will be a great book (based on the reviews I’ve seen) and it will hopefully provide a doorway into understanding self-harm a little better.
My decision to stop reading one book on the subject of self-harm is not in the same league as an authority figure withdrawing or censoring books because the subject might be upsetting. Reading books that deal with triggering themes is complicated but these books are there to tell important stories and we need them. Girl in Pieces and Scars might be the perfect books for another person who self-harms, or neither of them might be. Or there could be others like Willow by Julia Hoban (also on my shelf).
The point is that there isn’t a right answer. We get to have a choice and if you as a reader aren’t ready for a book that is fine, you can always come back. Or you can leave it unfinished, because that’s ok too.