book cover from goodreads for Cut Me Free by J.R. Johansson

Cut Me Free by J.R. Johansson • Magan Reviews

book cover from goodreads for Cut Me Free by J.R. JohanssonCut Me Free by J.R. Johansson [twitter • website]
Publication Date: January 27, 2015
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR)
Pages: 304
Target Audience: Young Adult Fiction
Keywords: child abuse, changing identities, escaping abuse, thriller
Format Read: ARC from Publisher (Thank you!)

Summary: Though Charlotte is able to escape her abusers (her parents) and relocate to another city, once she begins to settle she begins receiving mysterious boxes with creepy messages inside. Could her parents have possibly tracked her down or has someone else discovered her secrets?

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How does one review a book that was brilliantly written but scared the bejesus out of them? I felt shaky and scared and angry while I was reading Cut Me Free. I tried to skip to the end to give myself some piece of mind; I hovered over the Goodreads app, contemplating whether or not I should look up spoilers because I was soooo anxious.

That’s a lot of emotions, huh?

Well, it’s all true. Charlotte was raised in the attic of her biological parent’s house. She and her brother’s identity was known to no one other than the two people who abused them and held them hostage. They’re sickening and grotesque and some of the worst people I’ve ever met in my reading life. The good news? Charlotte escapes. She weaves a path far, far away from the detestable souls she was unfortunately born to and tries to start over. She hires Cam to change her identity, provide the necessary official paperwork, and erase her past.

But things don’t come easy for Charlotte. She begins to see a young girl out and about with a fatherly figure who is showing obvious signs of abuse. For reasons I won’t go into, Charlotte feels like she has to save this girl. A whole series of events unfolds that really left me feeling unsettled and on guard. This story, Charlotte’s story, is multi-faceted: It’s her journey to begin anew, but interwoven is a thriller story as she begins to receive mysterious boxes.

I admire the way Cut Me Free made me feel, but maybe I walked away a little more paranoid than I began. There were times when, sure, this story really had things that may not have seemed plausible — for instance, how does a girl who has no education and socialization skills logically escape and instinctually know how to flee across the country — but ultimately, knowing whether or not Charlotte was going to be okay far outweighed the practical side of me that questions things. (And I think that’s a pretty big deal.)

As far as thrillers go, I was positively hooked. I really try to focus on my job during the day and taking care of my daughter when she’s awake, but by golly, I wanted to hire a babysitter and play hooky. I feel it’s my responsibility to admit the following to you: If you are really sensitive to abuse and neglect, I caution you to tread lightly with Cut Me Free. My anger was through the roof and Foster Mama Magan wanted to rip someone to shreds for not intervening here. (I actually read a few reviews that said the details weren’t graphic enough and my jaw couldn’t have dropped further because yes, things are told in a careful manner, but you’re quite capable of putting all the details together.)

Cut Me Free was an extremely intense story told quite well; it took me on an emotional, heart-pounding journey. I hope you’ll consider giving it a go, too.

**Sidebar: Have any of you read Room? Those same intense, crazy feelings I had while reading Room are what reappeared while reading Cut Me Free.

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Estelle: Various Positions by Martha Schabas

Various Positions by Martha Schabas
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Publication Date: February 14, 2012
Pages: 336
Target Audience: Young Adult (for mature audiences)
Format read: Paperback ARC from ALA.

Summary: With her sex-obsessed peers and an unhappy home life, the only time Georgia feels at peace is on the dance floor. When she gets into a prestigious dance school, she believes her life may change for the better. But instead she gets wrapped up in the attention from her male dance professor and her thoughts and actions slowly spiral out of control…

Various Positions is a tough book to classify. The main character is 14 but has some very adult thoughts when it comes to sex. She’s fantasizing about her dance teacher, watching porn on the internet, and buying lingerie in hopes of someone seeing it. It’s an interesting juxtaposition from the character we meet initially. Georgia is skittish when it comes to her friends talking about sex and kissing and then she secretly begins to obsess with this world.

You don’t need me to tell you sex is a private thing. In my circle of friends, it wasn’t something we were very open about. At least with the girls. But I do remember those 14-year old boys, bringing it up anytime they could, teasing us, and being very open about the porn they were watching. While reading Various Positions, I stopped several times wondering if the uneasiness surrounding this particular book would exist if we were reading about a guy. And then I think Schabas has done something remarkable – given us an intimate look into the way Georgia’s mind works, stripping her of all boundaries. There are no limits when it comes to uncovering her actions and thoughts. Thoughts that are dark and honest and real.

This book is incredibly well-written and does a brilliant job of presenting a series of different women, full of their own beliefs and their own insecurities. Georgia is brought up in a household where her mother stresses about good looks and has a shaky relationship with Georgia’s dad, who for the most part is MIA. Then there is her independent, feminist half-sister who provides her with support and the constant reminder to not let her dad’s indifference get the best of her. You can see how this dynamic in her family life (and the secrets she soon discovers) cause her to be so unbalanced and confused.

While I was never hoping to be a professional dancer, I did dance for many years and the scrutiny I felt from the company owner and then on my own is something that still affects me to this day. The perfection of movement and appearance – you never know how that will affect someone and we see many levels of it here. Schabas seems to remember with great clarity both the challenges (both mental and physical) and pride and passion that come along with this profession.

Various Positions is not for every reader. Maybe when I was 14, it wouldn’t have been deemed super appropriate but in 2012 with Teen Mom, Jersey Shore, and the ability to find whatever term or video on the internet with just a click or two, I imagine many would relate or at least not shy away from the context. To take it one step further, I would love to see a book like this on a college syllabus – my college in particular would have loved to dissect this one to death. It’s an intimate and multi-layered look into the feelings of actions of different women. And how they just might surprise you.

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