I’m the Chair of the Isinglass Teen Read Award Committee, a state book award that highlights books for 7th and 8th graders. The list is generated through nominations submitted by the students, then reviewed and trimmed by our committee of NH school and library professionals. Eventually the students vote for a winner from that year’s nominations. So I read a lot of teen lit, some things that I might gravitate toward in my personal tastes and others that I wouldn’t, and very often I’m pleasantly surprised to discover a new-to-me author. I just finished Kiss of Broken Glass by Madeleine Kuderick, (HarperTeen, 2014) a verse novel about 15-year-old Kenna, who, as a resident of Florida, is involuntarily admitted to a 72 hour psychiatric program under Florida’s Baker Act after she is discovered cutting in the school bathroom.
Full disclosure: Normally, I am not a fan of disorder books – bulimia, anorexia, cutting and the like. Yes, I understand that these are huge issues that our teens are struggling with, but very often, and I mean no disrespect to Laurie Halse Anderson or her fans out there, these books are used as how-to manuals when in the hands of the kids who are struggling. I know this because we’ve battled these disorder demons in my house with my daughters and guess who’s books I found hidden under the bed? And when you’re the parent dropping your 14-year-old off at a two week emergency treatment center, the very last thing you need is a novel glorifying (spending 98% of the book on the problem and 2% on unresolved resolution) the disorder that is tearing apart your family and destroying your kid. So I struggle when promoting this sub-genre because as a librarian I censor nothing, but as a mother I will. There are some books that I will not allow in my house because they act as triggers and I am a mother first.
And that’s why this review will probably contain a few SPOILERS.
With that said, I had an easier time reading Kuderick’s Kiss of Broken Glass. Objectively, the verse is lovely. It’s not stilted, and the characters are allowed to develop into multi-dimensional people. The story has tension and moves forward. Kenna is smart and honest and a teen reader would probably recognize her as someone sharing a class or a seat at the lunch table. But here’s what I found refreshing: Kenna admits, “I don’t have any deep, dark secrets./Not like that anyway./My life’s not some riveting novel/where you rush through the pages/to get to the end and find out/what horrific, repressed memory/caused me to cut.//The fact is,/I’ve had a pretty ordinary childhood./Boring? (Yes.)/Predictable? (Yes.)/But stitch-worthy? (No.)//So I guess that brings me to the real secret./The deepest, darkest kind there is.//I’ve been cutting for absolutely no reason at all.//Because that means I’m just a copycutter./A follower who did it to fit in./And now I can’t stop.//”
When we were dealing with the disorders in my house – anorexia, then cutting with our oldest and cutting and identity issues with our second – my husband and I mused (in a very beaten, confused, terrified and broken way that you do on long car rides to out of state treatment centers) that the issues we were dealing with were 1. social and 2. first world problems. They were social because other girls were doing it, or their peer group had criticized imagined flaws and cruelly criticized my sensitive, shy daughters. They were first world problems because, as my husband pointed out, girls in third world countries who struggled with starvation and just staying alive to the next day, did not harm or starve themselves on purpose. They were trying to survive. So what was it about a privileged kid from an educated family that caused them to self harm? I think Kuderick touches on it – Kenna’s social pressures of trying to fit in, of trying to be noticed as the middle child of a blended family. Learning disordered coping skills from her peer group and needing to replace these with other coping skills suggested in therapy. In our family, our kids were dealing with a move to a small town and a new school where classmates had grown up together. With our oldest daughter, a counselor suggested that her outrageous outfits and hair color was her way of sending the message to her peers that she was unwilling to compete with the popular, beautiful kids; that by dressing a certain way she guaranteed not being seen. If she was unseen, no one would notice the signs of the disorder. Add to this, trying to deal with a beloved grandpa wasting away from brain cancer (the reason for our move) and her parents struggling to find steady employment, and the birth of a new baby sister. So often, our daughter said she just didn’t want to bother us with her problems and make us worry. We learned in counseling that this empathy is a text-book personality of someone who would be more sensitive to falling prey to a disorder.
Disorders are hell, because in the end, you never really uncover the reason why it happened. And here, again, I think Kiss of Broken Glass rings true. In 72 hours, Kenna is able to realize a glimmer of her self-worth, all the while knowing that when she’s released, “You open up the door and walk out./And the world’s still the same sharp/trigger as when you left it.//So that makes you wonder/what’s gonna happen next.//…But like I said before, my life’s/not some riveting novel that’s/gonna tie up all neat at the end.//Not in 72 freaking hours.//…And it’s not like I get//all happy ending-ish/and ride off into the sunset/or some crap like that.//But I do feel like a have a choice./Like a fork in the road or whatever.//” In the Author’s Note, Kuderick discloses that she wrote the book in the year following her daughter’s involuntary commitment under Florida’s Baker Act and that her daughter helped edit early drafts of the novel to ensure that “the words rang true.” And maybe they did…at least for this reader.