I have just read the novella cut by Patricia McCormick in one sitting. It’s a captivating little 151 page book (with approximately 300 words per page). It’s the first novel I’ve read that addresses the issue of why kids cut themselves, and I believe that McCormick effectively enlightens the reader about the issue. It’s hard to believe that it was her first novel, and it has received raving reviews:
1. The Boston Globe – “…one of the best young-adult novels in years…”
2. The New York Times – “A vivid and inspiring first novel…”
3. School Library Journal – “…poignant and compelling reading…”
4. Kirkus Reviews – “First-timer McCormick tackles a side of mental illness that is rarely seen in young-adult literature in a believable and sensitive manner…”
5. Publishers Weekly – “…persuasive view of the teenage experience.”
When I was about 50 pages into the story, I thought, This book would be a great companion to Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak novel. I discovered shortly after that my thought is supported by Publishers Weekly’s review: “This novel, like Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak, sympathetically and authentically renders the difficulties of giving voice to a very real sense of harm and powerlessness.” I already use Speak in my grade eleven college class as a choice novel for our novel study. Instead of a formal, teacher-directed, same-novel unit, the students are able to choose from several novels. There are some students who finish their novel quickly because of their more proficient reading ability. Since we are using a reading and journaling approach, some students can read more than another student who is weaker in the subject over the four week novel study. There are some students who read up to three novels during this unit and others who struggle to get through just one!
I plan to purchase a few copies of cut to use with Speak, for the students who read quickly. These students will be able to compare these two novels since they have similar themes. Both protagonists have an inability to speak because of their individual traumatic experiences. Although each character has a different way of dealing with their hurt, they are both on a journey of healing. Both novels provide insight regarding their respective topics of teen self-mutilation and date-rape.
The structure of the novel is quite unobtrusive. In fact, when I finished the novel, I had the impression that there weren’t any chapter divisions which seemed appropriate to me because while Callie, the main character, is in the Sea Pines treatment facility she loses a sense of time in the outside world. Upon more study, I noted that the novel is divided into three sections which I believe mark the phases of her treatment: by the end of the first phase, she shows a desire to engage in treatment; in the second phase, she begins to explore her family dynamic and why she started self-harm; and, as a reader who likes the element of the unknown, I believe it would be wrong to describe the third stage!
In recommending a book for age and grade level there are four factors to consider:
1. age appropriateness of content,
2. text readability,
3. subject interest level, and
4. text length.
I believe that the content would be appropriate for as young as 12 or 13 years old as the protagonist is 13. In terms of readability, using it depends on the ability of the readers. Your grade 7 and 8 ‘at grade level’ readers will not have difficulty reading this novel independently. At the high school level, this novel would be more appropriately used in grades 9 and 10 not at the academic level. As mentioned above, I would use it as a companion novel to the main novel being studied in a grade 11 class that is not university preparation. Because of the high interest nature of the content, this novel would be a great remedial level teacher-directed novel study in the same grades. The short length of the novel is desirable because you don’t want to spend half a course studying one novel. This novel could be studied as a class in 12-15 days with extension activities. This is a Scholastic novel, which recommends the novel’s content for grades 9 to 12.