Cuts & Bruises

- Kelly O'Flaherty

Goodreads Book Blurb:

“I’d imagine my family finding me; would they be surprised? Devastated? Relieved? Would I survive? Would they find me just at the last second, resuscitate me at the vital moment before I could slip away? I could see their angry faces flashing before my eyes, screaming selfish, selfish, selfish, how selfish can you be?”

Life has become banal and monotonous for 16-year-old Samantha Ward. The blade she drags across her skin is the only thing that makes her feel alive, that makes her feel real.

With the death of her beloved grandmother and the rejection of her best friend, Samantha falls ever further into the grips of her darkness, every day adding to the collection of marks on her skin.

Desperate and tired of waiting for change, Samantha ventures out into the rain and finds herself drawn to the graveyard nearby. She stumbles across her classmate Michael Gallagher with a noose swaying behind him. Choosing careful words, Samantha convinces him to leave it behind.

With an unspoken bond between them, a friendship blooms. But as Samantha struggles to keep her habit a secret, she realises that Michael is hiding his own secrets too.


My Review:

***Thanks to NetGalley and Cranthorpe Millner Publishers for an eARC of this book. The following review is my honest reflection on the text provided.

not my cup of tea:
I have to hide this entire review under a spoiler tag because it’s difficult to discuss my issues with the narrative without giving away critical plot points. I am clearly in the minority out of others who have read Cuts & Bruises – the Goodreads reviews seem to be glowing – so feel free to take someone else’s feedback on board as well before reading.
I’m doing bullet points here to try and keep this short(-ish).
-Sam meets Michael mid-suicide attempt. She convinces him (a complete stranger) to not follow through, and he makes her promise not to tell anyone. Then he disappears from school for a couple of weeks, and she doesn’t tell anyone. Highly irresponsible but okay – they don’t really know each other; Sam is incredibly introverted and alone and doesn’t know who she should tell. I guess this is understandable.
-Michael admits to Sam that since his father’s death, his mother has become withdrawn and dependent on alcohol, often lashing out at him – both verbally and physically. He attends school with new cuts and bruises weekly, if not daily. It’s hard enough to believe that the school never steps in to even ask about these injuries, but Sam is once again asked to keep it a secret. Even as the injuries escalate and it becomes more apparent that Michael is not safe in his own home, no one of importance is looped into the discussion.
-Michael realises that Sam is harming herself but tries to wait for her to feel comfortable enough with him to tell him herself. I do think this could be the right choice – Sam is easily spooked and isolated. If Michael confronted Sam from the beginning, I doubt she would have ever opened up to him. However, when she continues to self-harm, he asks her to listen to music instead and – are you sensing a theme? – doesn’t. tell. anyone.
-Sam ‘accidentally’ goes too far and ends up in the hospital – I’m definitely not blaming Michael, but he is the only person who knew Sam was self-harming, so he was the only one who could have told someone. Sam was lucky enough to survive and to have a supportive family who basically forces her into therapy (though I found her mother’s take on antidepressants to be a little medieval). Despite this experience, Sam doesn’t seem to sense the irony in keeping Michael’s dangerous secrets moving forward.
-Michael’s mother escalates. Michael calls Sam, clearly afraid for his life, which leads to an attempted murder-suicide. Not only does Michael’s mother die, but Sam’s college-aged brother risks his own life to save Michael’s, adding another person to the list of those traumatised by these events.
-We are talking about serious abuse, addiction, and mental illness here. I don’t think there are any easy solutions, but I do wish O’Flaherty had chosen to model more responsible behaviour rather than suggesting that teenagers should be taking all of this on by themselves. It’s hard to know what could have happened differently if Sam or Michael had reached out for help at any time, but it’s hard to believe that things could have ended worse.
TL;DR there are a lot of dangerous behaviours modelled in this narrative. While I can appreciate the raw emotions and the topics addressed, I wish Sam and Michael made more responsible choices (for each other if they weren’t capable of stepping up for themselves) – even once would have been nice.

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