Second Look: Pieces of Us by Margie Gelbwasser

Where, oh where to begin on the madness that is Pieces of UsThis book made me feel so many conflicting emotions, I have no idea how I feel about it. It’s depressing and disturbing, and I hated every minute of it. But if you would’ve tried to pry it from my hands I would’ve beaten you within an inch of your life because I didn’t want to put it down. *sigh*

I have to warn you I’m probably going to spoil the crap out of this book because I need to rant. Don’t worry, I’ll warn you ahead of time. I guess we should start from the beginning…

The Story: Pieces of Us is about four characters from two different families: Katie and Julie (sisters) in Cherry Hill, New Jersey and Alex and Kyle (brothers) in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The story takes place over a two year period, in which each character experiences great highs and terrible lows. They find escape and comfort with each other at their grandparents’ lakeside community each summer, each trying desperately to keep their home lives separate from their lives at the lake. All four teens later learn that they can’t outrun their demons, even with the people they thought could keep them safe.

The Characters: We’ll start with Katie. Katie is at the top of her high school social pyramid (literally and figuratively — she’s the head cheerleader, who they refer to as “The Pyramid Girl”). When Katie is raped by her boyfriend, Ethan, and his friend, Chris, after getting drunk at a party, he accuses her of being a cheating whore because she had sex with his friend. This sets up Katie’s character as a very tragic figure trying to survive the rape and constant bullying of her classmates and, worst of all, Ethan and Chris. Meanwhile, Katie’s mother is a delusional idiot who is still living out of her high school yearbook, and tells Katie that since she’s pretty and the Pyramid Girl that she has no reason to be upset about anything. Katie’s sister Julie, however, is constantly ignored by their mother because she’s not as as pretty as Katie. As a result, Julie has very little love for her sister because she gets the attention, new clothes, boys, and pretty much everything else she wants. Julie is jealous and bitter, and wants to be the center of attention just once.

Now, on to the boys. Alex. Oh, Alex. Alex is destined to be on a deviant sexual predator watch list someday. He fools around with “whores,” “sluts,” “skanks,” and “bitches” and then says they’re trashy and not quality girls because they put out at the drop of a hat. He’s pretty much a serial manwhore, and often asks his baby brother Kyle to join him with the girls he brings home to teach him how to be a man. Poor Kyle never fully recovered from their father’s suicide, has serious intimacy issues, and tells his story in the second person.

The Low Down:
Ok. I think the thing that bothered me most of all is that this is considered a young adult/teen book when the whole thing is very disturbing and contains a lot of adult material. We have Katie who is raped (repeatedly), Alex who is a rampant misogynistic womanizer, and Kyle who is pretty traumatized by Alex forcing sexual favors on him via his “flavor of the week.” Julie is kind of a non-character. I mean, she’s important to the story and all, but she probably has the least amount of trauma in her life considering the circumstances. The worst part is that I can find no redeeming moral to the story whatsoever. I know, realistically, stories like this don’t always turn out all shiny and happy. But no one learns a lesson, no one comes out stronger (except for the nutcases) and no one ever really deals with their problems.

**MAJOR SPOILER (as in, this is where I tell you the end of the book because I need to know if anyone else finds this as messed up as I do)** After Alex (who is now Katie’s boyfriend) finds out about Katie’s rape, Alex calls her a whore and rapes her, which Katie takes because she says it’s her penance. Penance. For being raped. And then blackmailed into sex by the two douchebags who raped her in the first place. Yup. Which drives her nearly to suicide and ends up institutionalized. Eventually, her and Kyle (who was Julie’s boyfriend) form a bond, and she invites him to join her in the institution to get help. Meanwhile Julie realizes Kyle isn’t man enough for her and hooks up with Alex.

Pieces of Us is actually much more complex than I make it sound to be. There are lots of relationships and psychological issues going on and is so much more complicated than “girl likes boy, boy abuses girl, girl’s little sister dumps boy’s little bro and hooks up with original boy.” In a way it’s somewhat fascinating, which is probably why I couldn’t stop reading it. But I was very disturbed by some of the elements in the story.

The Bottom Line: Despite all my complaints, it actually is a good book. It is compelling and psychologically complex, which I love, but would have enjoyed if I had realized it was more adult than teen. I do not support censorship in the slightest, but I would only recommend it to teens if they were older, mature readers. In my opinion, even though it’s about teenagers, this is not a YA book.



5 thoughts on “Second Look: Pieces of Us by Margie Gelbwasser

  1. Ashley says:

    See, I have a different take on this entirely. I think it’s completely realistic in that it DOES happen to high school kids. But remember: Alex is, what? 19-20? And Katie’s a senior in high school. It’s MEANT for older kids.

    We’ll have to agree to disagree, my love. <3

    • Katarina Karenina says:

      I totes agree that the bullying and everything is realistic. It wasn’t that aspect of it… The part that got me was the first chapter or so when Ethan hoists Katie on his shoulders in the middle of the pep rally and kisses her while the crowd applauds wildly, and a few pages later when she does a cheer (complete with basket tosses) in the middle of the cafeteria at lunchtime in honor of the day’s meal selection. I thought that was ridic and would never fly in any high school anywhere. If that happened at our high school, she probably would’ve ended up WEARING the meal selection LOL

      • Ashley says:

        It amuses me that you have an issue with THAT part of it. ;)

        Though I imagine that it could happen at smaller schools. And that part DID take place in Jersey… ;)

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