Girl in Pieces

Book review by
Mary Cosola, Common Sense Media
Girl in Pieces Book Poster Image
Popular with kidsParents recommend
Teen heals from loss and self-harm in gritty, gripping tale.

Parents say

age 15+
Based on 5 reviews

Kids say

age 14+
Based on 16 reviews

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

The story details the various reasons people self-harm and how it's treated. Substance abuse features heavily, including its negative effects and recovery. Some discussion of art, artistic technique, and artists. Day of the Dead celebration and its meaning are described in detail. The geography and topography of the southwestern United States factor into the story.

Positive Messages

Even though Charlie and her friends have some serious issues, there are a lot of positive takeaways from the story: It's OK to work through issues slowly, which sometimes can mean focusing on getting through the next 10 minutes. It's hard to start a new life, but you can make changes and progress. Sometimes you have to create your own family and support network if your own family can't be there for you. It's good to open yourself up to others and ask for help, even if it sometimes results in getting hurt.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Charlie encounters many caring people during her time in treatment and afterward, though she's not always immediately receptive to their attention. Dr. Stinson, the therapist at the hospital, is patient, caring, and helpful with Charlie, even after Charlie is discharged. Some of the other patients are kind to Charlie, despite how closed off Charlie is. Many side characters are sympathetic and jump in when Charlie needs help. Mikey helps Charlie get on her feet and start a new life. He's a good example of turning your life around. Charlie has serious issues and has made some bad decisions, but she works hard to turn things around. Ariel and Felix are positive adult figures in Charlie's new life; they understand Charlie's demons and mentor her as an artist.


Much of the violence in the book isn't shown but is described or discussed in flashback, including verbal and physical bullying, attempted suicide, cutting, burning, and other forms of self-harm. Charlie describes violent aspects of life on the streets, including attacks on her and violence on the part of her friends. One of the employees at the treatment facility is verbally abusive and makes sexually suggestive comments to the patients. Charlie uses a chair as a weapon and kicks at furniture in the hospital. Charlie recounts her mom hitting her on a few occasions and Charlie hitting her back. Charlie and Riley get physically rough with each other a few times.


Much is made of Charlie's crushes and sexual attraction to a few different characters. A doctor and patient are caught having sex at the treatment center, but it isn't shown. Charlie recounts listening to her friend have sex with a boy. A teen character has a sexual relationship with a man 10 years older than she, and a few of the sex scenes are described in detail. Charlie describes seeing two people having sex in a kitchen.


Frequent swearing by many of the characters in the book, but it fits the rough-around-the-edges aspect of the characters. Swearing includes "f--k" and its variations, "s--t" and its variations, "goddamn," "Jesus," "p---y," "bitch," "a--hole," "tits," "piss," "Christ," "ass," and "crappy."


A few products and media mentioned for scene-setting including, Facebook, Twitter, iPod, Subaru, Scrabble, Connect 4, Pixy Sticks, Greyhound, Circle K, Converse, Dairy Queen, Coke, Dunkin' Donuts, and Coors Light.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Many characters drink, smoke, and do drugs, including meth and heroin, or have in the past. Much of the story deals with the problem facing characters who have had or currently have substance-abuse problems, so characters are depicted high and/or drunk or talking about past experiences. None of it is glamorized, and the story shows the devastating effect drugs and alcohol can have on people and those around them. The issue of enabling substance abusers features in the story, too.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Girl in Pieces is an intense look at the life of a teen who self-harms, her road to recovery, and the people she meets along the way. The book opens with Charlie Davis in a treatment facility, in a ward with other women who engage in self-harm, including cutting and burning. Once out of the facility, she has to figure out how to create a new life when she hasn't fully dealt with the family issues and loss that drive her self-destructive behavior. The book's an honest look at how people end up in desperate situations. The subject matter is gritty. In addition to the characters who self-harm, Girl in Pieces portrays alcoholics, drug addicts, the homeless, and others struggling to get through life. None of the drinking, drugs, or smoking is glorified. Several of the characters have endured trauma and messed-up home lives. Much of the violence is told in flashback and isn't graphic, but there are a few intense scenes of pushing and grabbing. Sexual attraction plays a large role in the book, and a few sex scenes are borderline graphic. The story is thought-provoking and provides great discussion points around empathy for people struggling with serious issues and the concept of enabling.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written December 14, 2018

One of my favorites

This book is sad and at times hard to read but is truly a beautiful story; it teaches you that you can grow from your past and overcome difficult situations.
Adult Written byivyoreilly February 24, 2019

A hard read

Reading it felt like a chore, it was a very hard read. The book is written in journal-form, which can make the ideas a little too blunt.

The book talks about... Continue reading
Teen, 16 years old Written byLilbe April 23, 2021


It’s a beautiful book that contains the reality of the world.
Teen, 14 years old Written bymlbb March 9, 2021

Very good!!

This book is really well written and once you start reading you can't stop. It can be triggering for people who have suffered from suicidal thoughts or sel... Continue reading

What's the story?

In GIRL IN PIECES, Charlie Davis is learning to cope day by day, sometimes minute by minute. A cutter who took it to the point of near suicide, Charlie finds herself in a hospital ward with other women who self-harm. Written in a first-person journal style, the story follows along with Charlie as she is discharged, moves to Tucson, and is forced to make a go of recovery on her own. It's much harder than she ever imagined. Her rough home life, serious losses, guilt, and other trauma are told in flashbacks, as they swarm up in her mind, consume her, and threaten to keep her from moving forward. She meets many people who have their own demons and struggles, some working hard to stay sober and clean, some spiraling out of control and threatening to take her down with them. Her love life's complicated because of her low self-worth, and she mistakes enabling a drunk and a drug user for loving and caring for him. Her art saves her on more than one occasion, because it's the way she's most comfortable expressing herself and it's the one, true thing she likes and knows about herself. She meets many people who care about her and help her, and she learns that sometimes you have to create a family if yours isn't a safe place for you.

Is it any good?

Gritty, raw, and real, Charlie Davis' story of self-harm and recovery will alternately gut and charm you. In Girl in Pieces, author Kathleen Glasgow draws on her own history of cutting to weave a realistic, empathetic look at what goes on in the minds of people who self-harm. The story is well balanced. Even though the subject matter is heavy, Glasgow always keeps a spark of hope in the pages. All the characters -- even the minor ones -- are well-drawn and complicated people, which makes the reader invested in the story and the outcome. Some of the passages are rough going, especially when Charlie is recounting her life on the streets or when she starts to fall into old habits, but Glasgow's beautiful writing keeps the story from being too depressing.

In addition to the topic of self-harm, Girl in Pieces paints an unflinching but empathetic portrayal of people dealing with loss and substance abuse. Issues around what it means to be an enabler figure strongly into the story, too. Charlie is a relatable, interesting narrator who struggles to make a new life but doesn't fall into annoying self-pity. The book is on the long side and would have benefited from more details about Charlie's backstory with her mom and dad, but her journey will stay with readers long after they've finished the book.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how Girl in Pieces deals with self-harm and substance abuse. How are these types of issues usually portrayed in the books you read and movies you see? Do you find yourself having more empathy for people in real life after reading or watching these fictional stories?

  • Many young adult novels deal with physical or mental illness. Which others have you read and liked? What's so compelling about these topics?

  • Art is more than an escape for Charlie, it's how she expresses her feelings and communicates when she physically can't talk. Do you have an outlet like that?

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