Whew. This book terrified me, and not in a spooky fun way. It terrified me because I have a daughter, and this is a coming-of-age novel about a teenager who is struggling her way through life as a female. Sharp Edges by Leah Mol is about a lot of things, but it’s mainly about growing up, and how hard it can be. It doesn’t shy away from the gory discomfort of being a girl uncomfortable in her own skin, and the dark paths this can lead if there aren’t trusted adults around to help navigate this difficult time. I requested this debut novel knowing it would be uncomfortable, but that didn’t make it any easier to read.

Plot Summary

Through her first-person perspective, we meet Katie. She’s fifteen, and she’s struggling with lots of things. Her father left her and her mother awhile ago, and she doesn’t know where he went. Her mother is a hypochondriac who can’t manage to work or get off the couch, her best friend Lillian has a new boyfriend who she’s obsessed with, and Katie doesn’t have many other friends to rely on. She secretly cuts herself with a small razorblade, savouring the feeling of her secret, and indulging a fascination with what she sees are her ‘insides’. Although a cliché, she falls in with the wrong kind of guy at school who introduces her to doing all kinds of drugs, only drawing the line at crack (!) Looking for different kinds of control and companionship, she begins chatting with people online, selling parts of her wardrobe and videos of herself for money. She makes new friends with people who also do a lot of drugs, and she eventually begins skipping school and spending more time at various parties around town than at home. As her behaviour becomes increasingly dangerous, she loses touch with most people her age, relying on her contact with a man many years older than her that she meets online. The book ends shortly after she turns 16, with a glimmer of hope for what her future may hold.

My Thoughts

I bet you cringed at least once or twice during the summary above, and I don’t blame you. It’s difficult to read because you know things can’t end well for someone who is participating in those things, especially when they aren’t capable of distinguishing between healthy and unhealthy influences. The more I write, the more I realize how obvious my lens of being a parent skews my viewpoint of this book, so I’ll try to come at it from another few angles; that of a teenage girl, and then that of an adult woman. If I continue to write this review as a parent only, I’ll end up increasing both mine, and other parents anxiety levels, which isn’t a very helpful book review.

How would a teen approach this book? Would they find things to relate to? Most likely. The precariousness of friendships at that age is a big theme, and it’s the shifting of Katie’s friendships that act as a trigger to the dark path she begins to tread. Katie is aware of this though, and constantly thinks back to her oldest and best friend Lillian when she reaches these new milestones; doing a new drug, having sex for the first time, interacting with strange guys on a chat room. The constant pressure of situating oneself in the social order of high school weighs on Katie, which is a major factor in her harmful actions. New friendships form that offer solace to Katie, but in some ways these connections only encourage her new behaviours. For example a friend of hers is bulimic, and when she notices that Katie cuts herself, they make a pact to stop together, but then continue to do it anyway.

Approaching this book as simply an adult woman (actively trying to ignore all my fears as a parent), it’s a brutally honest look at the different ‘rules’ for girls and boys, made all the more obvious when in high school:

“Now that I’m fifteen, things are even harder. Boys want you to do things, but they hate you when you do them. The rules are: never say no and never say yes. Marcy said no to a guy who wanted a hand job and he told everyone that she gave him a blow job and he was embarrassed because she’s so ugly. If you say yes, you’re a slut. Always do something, but never do as much as they want.”

-p.21 of Sharp Edges by Leah Mol

Much of the book is written in the style above, internal dialogue running constantly, observing Katie’s position on things while also admitting to her darkest thoughts. She struggles to interpret those around her, but also with her own sense of self-esteem and confidence. Her spiral of self-destruction is difficult for anyone to read about, and I’m still struggling to process it.

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