Published by Harper Teen on September 9th, 2014
Genres: contemporary, young adult
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Madeleine Kuderick’s gripping debut is a darkly beautiful and lyrical novel in verse, perfect for fans of Sonya Sones and Laurie Halse Anderson. Kiss of Broken Glass pulses with emotion and lingers long after the last page.
In the next seventy-two hours, Kenna may lose everything—her friends, her freedom, and maybe even herself. One kiss of the blade was all it took to get her sent to the psych ward for seventy-two hours. There she will face her addiction to cutting, though the outcome is far from certain.
When fifteen-year-old Kenna is found cutting herself in the school bathroom, she is sent to a facility for mandatory psychiatric watch. There, Kenna meets other kids like her—her roommate, Donya, who’s there for her fifth time; the birdlike Skylar; and Jag, a boy cute enough to make her forget her problems . . . for a moment.
I am so, so torn about this book, guys, I don’t even know how to formulate the words. I didn’t get angry with the content or anything, but at the same time, I wasn’t moved to tears either. On top of that, I’m not overwhelmed with the “meh” feeling that can sometimes kill a book. I definitely have conflicting emotions with regards to the content AND the style, but it’s hard to really get a grasp on exactly how I feel.
Books about self harm hit close to home; I generally stay away from them, but every once in a while a book sounds like it offers a different angle, a different story, and Kiss of Broken Glass is one of those books. It’s very different from other books I’ve read about the subject, and part of that is of course that it’s in verse, but the bigger part is the heroine’s journey. Kenna doesn’t come to self harm through mental illness or overwhelming depression like so many do. Instead, her story starts with her classmates and trying to fit in with them. One girl in particular, her best friend (read: frenemy) who is constantly pushing her to hurt herself. They call it competitive cutting. Now, I don’t doubt this story’s accuracy (in fact, the author states in the afterword that a lot of this book was inspired by her daughter’s story.) However, this is not my truth, and so I did find it very hard to relate to it. I want to make it clear that I’m not subscribing to a hierarchy of “real cutters” vs “faking for attention.” If you are harming yourself, that’s real, no matter the motivations behind it. It’s exactly this reasoning that made me forgive my own personal feelings about Kenna’s tendencies.
One main factor in self mutilation that is often overlooked in YA fiction is the addiction factor. Kiss of Broken Glass focuses on this extensively, and for that I was grateful. There was no magical cure, or glittery happy ending. Kenna is facing down an addiction just as bad as if she were using drugs, and that’s handled realistically. I’m so thankful for that, honestly. Kiss of Broken Glass also takes (an admittedly limited) look at the health care system in the United States and how it treats those with mental illnesses. It touches upon the lack of care to those without insurance or money, and how hospitals can take advantage of those who do have coverage. While this glimpse into the realities of mental healthcare were very narrow in their scope, it was an interesting and refreshing take on the subject.
In Kiss of Broken Glass the main character, Kenna, is sent to a psychiatric ward in a hospital for 72 hours for evaluation after she is caught cutting herself in school. I thought Kenna’s reaction to being admitted were wholly realistic: the anger and frustration that comes along with truly believing you don’t need to be there; the panic at being ripped out of your comfort zone; and the anxiety about what’s going on while you’re not around to control it. I could totally relate to those feelings (I think we all can to some extent.) Honestly, Kenna just felt like a very real and authentic teenager. The other patients that she meets during her stay didn’t exactly meet the characterization standards that our main character did. There are certain roles to be filled in mental hospital lit, and they all fit them pretty nicely. There was the angry yet vulnerable girl who is constantly in and out of these facilities as if they had revolving doors. There was the special snowflake girl that takes a liking to the main character instantly and helps her see the light. And then there was the surprise love interest which I did not see coming, considering in other books like this girls and boys tend to me kept separate. A lot of it felt scripted and lacking in any real emotion.
Because of the shortness of this book, along with the sparseness in the prose, it was hard to connect to anyone and it was hard to feel a sense of completion when the book ended. It is less than 210 pages, and again, it was written in verse. There isn’t a whole lot of text here. So Kenna developed relationships with her fellow patients, and of course, we got to see some of her relationships with her family (an absent father, a disappointed mother, a mean older sister, and a shining beacon of innocence little brother.) But by the end, nothing really felt like it came full circle. There were no real emotionally climactic moments, nothing dramatic at all really. The language itself is absolutely beautiful. If I could, I would have highlighted basically the entire thing. But I just never felt any closure at all. I know that in real life, these stories don’t have definite endings; but this is a book, and I felt like something needed to be resolved. Even the tiny romance.
Look. This novel is technically sound. It is written absolutely beautifully and with an honesty and truth that is very often overlooked in other books in its category. Kiss of Broken Glass looks at self harm from a different and refreshing angle. I am so, so glad I read it. On the other hand, it was lacking in emotional connections and urgency, and so I had to bring the rating down. I do think that contemporary readers will love this, and if you’re looking for books in verse, this one would be a great place to start. And for those who are a bit squeamish: there is only the bare minimum of actual self harm in this book, so I think you will okay. All in all, this was a good read, and I would definitely recommend it.