Sunday, June 19, 2011


In the YA novel, Rage, by Jackie Morse Kessler, the 16 year-old protagonist, Missy, cuts her arms, legs, and abdomen with a razor. A detailed review can be found on the blog, Opinions of a Wolf.

I admire Jackie Morse Kessler for writing a book about a believable girl with such a problem. It will go a long way towards shining light on the issue of cutting. Rage removes the mystery, puts a human face on cutting, and provides hope.

Rage is one of the YA novels recently criticized by Meghan Cox Gurdon in her June 4 Wall Street Journal, as being too dark. Clearly, a teen cutting her skin with a razor, scares parents. But since reading Gurdon's article, I have been wondering exactly why parents are scared of young adult problems to the point of suggesting the banning YA books, like Rage. Should such problems be hidden? What is it parents want hidden?

In the July 2011 of The Sun , one of my favorite magazines, Tracy Frisch interviews Gail Hornstein, a Mount Holyoke College professor of psychology. It was about the need for American society to deal more openly with emotional crises and that teens are too easily labeled mentally ill. "We would have fewer people labeled as mentally ill if we didn't include all the young adults who don't have enough guidance to move forward in their lives, who feel so overwhelmed by others' expectations that they can't cope, and fall apart." The implication is that we'd have fewer disturbed kids showing up at therapists' offices if parents and communities cared more, paid attention, provided guidance. Do we sometimes blame kids when adults fail them? Is it always the disturbed kid who has the problem?

Missy, the protagonist in Rage, tells us why she cuts: "She had cut to keep herself grounded, to make life less overwhelming. She had bled herself again and again so that everything would make sense, so that she could breathe easier."

Missy needs help, and although in her fantasies she romps with the Horsemen of the Apocalypse, she needs help in the real world. She has become involved with the wrong boy. She is being seriously bullied at school. But her parents were too busy, too caught up in their jobs to notice, let alone guide her. She easily hides her scars from her parents even as they live in the same house.

It is Missy's only friend Erica, who gives down to earth useful guidance. She says: "Cutting is messed up, . . . But I get why you do it. At home, I cry in my pillow. . . I'm not hurting myself. I'm letting it out." 

The ending is hopeful. Young adults like Missy can learn to cry and to tolerate emotions without harming themselves. I don't assume that parents are to blame for everything, but as shown other novels, such as Ellen Hopkins' novel, Tricks, kids need parents and other adults to care and pay attention.

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