Girl in Pieces Is a Raw, Painful, and Mesmerizing Read

You won't be able to look away.

girl in pieces kathleen glasgow ya novel

Like all forms of social media, TikTok has its pros and cons. We certainly don’t need more reasons to spend time staring at tiny screens or comparing ourselves to curated snippets of other people’s lives. But on the plus side, TikTok does provide a lot of fun content, viral recipes, and, our personal favorite, some excellent book recommendations.

Thanks to TikTok, Kathleen Glasgow’s heartbreaking YA novel has found a very large audience, almost seven years after its initial release in 2016. “BookTok” accounts heaped praise on the novel, calling it an “emotional rollercoaster,” asking followers for their favorite quotes, and sharing the ways the story affected them personally.

It’s easy to see why Girl in Pieces resonates with readers. From classic works like The Bell Jar to more modern novels like Girl, Interrupted, Speak, and My Year of Rest and Relaxation Glasgow’s novel joins a niche genre in young adult lit: stories of young women dealing with unbearable pain, and the ways in which they cope. 

Though these books are dark, haunting, and often tragic, they are also vital. As author Melissa Febos (Whip Smart, Abandon Me) so succinctly put it, “The story of the mad girl is ultimately a story about being a girl in a mad world, how it breaks us into pieces and how we glue ourselves back together.”

(Trigger warning: Girl in Pieces deals with suicide, self-harm, drug abuse and sexual abuse.)

“Everyone has that moment I think, the moment when something so momentous happens that it rips your very being into small pieces. And then you have to stop. For a long time, you gather your pieces. And it takes such a very long time, not to fit them back together, but to assemble them in a new way, not necessarily a better way. More, a way you can live with until you know for certain that this piece should go there, and that one there.”

—Kathleen Glasgow, Girl in Pieces

Girl in Pieces is written from the point of view of seventeen-year-old Charlie Davis. Glasgow uses short, frenetic chapters and vivid imagery to bring readers into Charlie’s mind. She’s introduced to us at her most vulnerable—freshly admitted to Creeley Center, a psychiatric ward, after her suicide attempt. On the first page, we learn Charlie was left outside the hospital in sleet and snow, bleeding from her forearms and thighs, and naked except for a sheet. 

Slowly, Charlie lets the reader know more about her past. Bit by bit we piece together how she wound up there, without a father or mother to protect her, and far from her few friends who weren’t equipped to help her the way she needed.

It’s difficult to not be drawn in by Charlie. Though readers are granted access to her thoughts, the other patients and employees in the psych ward are initially stonewalled by her. Unable to let her guard down, Charlie doesn’t say a word during her first week at Creeley, communicating only through written messages. Despite her caginess and her anger—she has a tendency to lose her temper—Charlie’s humanity leaps off the page. 

What’s more, Charlie tells you exactly who she is. Anyone who’s been to high school can relate to her description of herself:

“If you have one of your class photographs, I bet you can find me. It won’t be hard. Who’s the girl who’s not smiling? Who, even if she’s between two other kids, kind of still looks like she’s standing alone, because they’re standing a little apart from her? Are her clothes kind of . . . plain? Dirty? Loose? Kind of nothing. Do you even remember her name? You can spot the girls who will have it easy. I don’t even have to describe them for you. You can spot the girls who will get by on smarts. You can spot the girls who will get by because they’re tough, or athletic. And then there’s me, that one, that disheveled kid (say it, poor) who never gets anything right, and sits alone in the cafeteria, and draws all the time, or gets shoved in the hallway, and called names, because that’s her slot, and sometimes she gets mad, and punches, because what else is there?”

Though she tried to take her own life, Charlie is relieved to be at Creeley. She’s thankful to be inside, to have food, and most of all to be away from Fucking Frank. Unfortunately, Charlie can’t stay at Creeley as long as she needs—she gets released early due to a lack of insurance. And that means she’ll have to figure out how to survive on her own.

Both a lifeline for teens who know exactly what it feels like to be that girl and an eye-opening, revelatory read for those who have never struggled in this way, Girl in Pieces is “why we read stories: to experience what it’s like to survive the unsurvivable; to find light in the darkest night” (Jeff Zentner, The Serpent King).