September 22, 2011

Blood Wounds: Guest Review

Ashley from Books from Bleh to Basically Amazing is sharing another review for Psychtember today! She's taking a look at Blood Wounds.

While Blood Wounds by Susan Beth Pfeffer isn't necessarily a book about a psychological disorder- one is certainly never specified, or identified- it is about a girl who is obviously struggling to accept and come to terms with a lot of different things, and one of the ways she chooses to cope is through cutting.

When I first heard about Blood Wounds, I was really excited. It's Contemporary, which I love, it's about secrets, and pain, about learning who you are and how to be strong for yourself. So, when the chance to borrow this from a friend's tour site popped up, I jumped. And I was legitimately excited when it came in the mail. I just knew I was gonna love it.

But- alas.

The book didn't deliver for me on a lot of different levels. I honestly don't like writing reviews when I can't think of anything I liked, anything that worked well for me. But they must still be written, and this is one I specifically wanted to write for Psychtember because of the portrayal of Willa as a cutter. But we'll come back to that.

As for the novel in general, I was disappointed. Willa is shown as growing up in a loving blended home, with stepsisters she gets along wonderfully with, a stepfather who loves her like his own and a supportive mother who does everything she can for her. But, Willa cuts. She gives herself a schedule, slips down into the basement, slices her skin and goes back to bed. But then, her orderly, perfect world is disrupted when she learns that her real father, who her mother never talks about, has killed his new family- a step-mother and half sisters she never knew existed- and might be headed to find her next. Cue drama and panic. (very short lived and unresolved drama and panic, I might add...)

To top that off, she also found out that her step-sister's rich real mom has decided to stop paying the mortgage on their house, which means Willa is going to have to switch schools, move into a significantly smaller, less nice house, while her step-sisters (who once again get any and everything they could possibly want) get to go to super awesome-fancy private schools to further cultivate their talents and interests. Oh, and what about the fact that apparently being happy in this new marriage means that Mom becomes a complete doormat to keep new husband happy and Willa has to try to earn and deserve adopted Papa's love, because she's pretty sure it's conditional. Perhaps their perfect world is not so perfect?

I felt like the story couldn't make up its mind about what it wanted to be. Am I a story about a sucessfully blended family? OR what about what appears to be a sucessfully blended family but is really still dysfunctional?! OR am I a story about a girl struggling with inner demons? Or am I a story about the lies and secrets of the past coming to haunt the present? A story about manipulation and misconceptions?

Sometimes, a story can be all of these things. A story can pull many parts of many stories and combine them into something so emotionally charged it just steals your breath. But, the book has to actually have emotion in order for that to be sucessful. This book felt clinical, like a bland recitation of the facts or the bones of the story. Blood Wounds never involved my emotions. And, coming from someone who gets emotionally invested in almost every story, who sometimes cries when characters die in books I don't even like, that's saying something. It's rare for me to be so completely detached from a story I'm reading.

The only time I felt any emotion while reading was during the scenes that talked about or showed Willa cutting- and it's not the emotion I was supposed to feel. They just felt so, wrong to me and that made me angry. I've read several books recently that handled the topic of cutting very well. I don't even kind of pretend to personally know what it's like, because I've never done it. But I've read enough stories, both in books and from people who were or are cutters, that I feel I have a decently good understanding of the thoughts and emotions that go into becoming a cutter. And it should never feel clinical or sterile. For some, cutting is a way to survive. It's a way to control a part of their life, to control what they allow themselves to feel, to release emotions that threaten to drown them. It's something that they do because they honestly don't know of any other ways to cope with the internal chaos. It's not something they schedule days in advance to do, because it's what's 'next' to be done. It is a result of intense Psychological turmoil, and that's not something that you can write into your day planner or reach your weekly quota on. Pain doesn't work like that. I imagine that in the beginning, they can feel in control of the action, but from every story, every account I've read or heard, it grows beyond that. It grows beyond something they can easily control and becomes a crutch, a drug that they need to thrive, that they need to retain their sanity. (You should read some of the stuff that Cheryl Reinfield and Stephanie Kuehnert have said about cutting) I never felt that from Willa.

This, more than any other book I've read, makes cutting seem like something that might be appealing. Because Willa does control it. Because she does decide when and what and how. And she never thinks about it as a problem, other than knowing it can't get 'out of hand.' It just felt, wrong. If you want a story that can really telegraph the fear and pain and hopelessness that overwhelms you, read Ballads of Suburbia by Stephanie Kuehnert or Willow by Julia Hoban or Scars by Cheryl Reinfield. These are stories that bleed. Blood Wounds, not so much. And it's a story that needs a strong emotional core to matter, to be worth investing time into.

And I didn't feel like this one had that. It just felt, empty. And toward the end, after Willa has to decide whether she is going to continue cutting, whether she is going to tell her mom about it, it's one of the most empty scenes of self analysis, or self discovery that I've ever come across.

This goes back to my OCD post, but it makes me want to shake all these authors and tell them it's NOT okay to just toss something like this into their story. THIS is the type of book that makes those crappy Washington Post article seem a bit valid. Because, at least in my opinion, this one really did feel like the cutting was added to make the story more interesting. And that's just wrong. You should never use the intense inner struggles of human beings to make a story more edgy and dramatic.

I'd love to hear from any of you who have read this book. Any of you feel the same way? Any of you feel completely differently?!

Ashley has been fascinated by the mind since before she can remember and decided long before college that Psychology would be her field of study. She received a BS in Psychology and is currently deciding where it should take her next. Ashley would like it to be made clear that she is not an expert in the field, and that the thoughts and feelings expressed are hers derived from both academic and personal study and experience.  

Thanks for the honest review, Ashley!


  1. I felt the exact same way, only less eloquent. I too, felt the role cutting played in Blood Wounds was shoddy. It just seemed so uneven and haphazard. Also, I felt as though I didn't get what I was sold, in that BLOOD WOUNDS looks like it's going to be a book about a girl and mom on the run, but that plot point was cruelly cut short.

  2. You know exactly how I felt about this one. And I'm right there with you. I didn't care much for Blood Wounds at all, which sucks. I didn't connect with Willa by any means. And she seemed to have her wits about her most of the time and then went to cut? Made no sense.

  3. Thanks April and Lauren! Glad you agree!


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