________________ CM . . . . Volume XXII Number 38 . . . . June 3, 2016


Cutter Boy. (SideStreets).

Cristy Watson.
Toronto, ON: James Lorimer, 2016.
173 pp., trade pbk. & ebook, $12.95 (pbk.).
ISBN 978-1-4594-1095-4 (pbk.), ISBN 978-1-4594-1096-1 (ebook).

Grades 7-9 / Ages 12-14.

Review by Stephanie Johnson.

*** /4



I pull my shirt sleeve over my shoulder. I never expose my arms to anyone. Especially not during PE – that's why I don't change my shirt in front of the guys. I wouldn't want them to see my scars. So, I usually hover in the corner, hoping no one will notice me. All the other guys walk around without their shirts, flexing their biceps to show off their muscles.

Tomorrow I have to face them again. Weekends are when I try to get my head straight so I can handle the crap the guys give me all week. But I was ignored at dinner again and it's not like I have anyone to talk to.

I'm surrounded by grey. Even my school is made of concrete – like a prison.

Grey school.

Grey home.

Grey family.

But I have a secret weapon against the grey, something that keeps me alive. Just thinking about piercing my skin gets my adrenaline going. It feels like my insides light up. And every time I carve into my flesh, I feel my body settle into a calm, quiet place.

I hold the blade in my right hand and look down at my left arm ... I press the blade against my skin. It's cold. I notice that the razor is grey, too. I slide it across my flesh and feel the sting, the prick, and then the grey disappears.

Cutter Boy tells an all-too familiar story, that of Travis, a teen who is all alone in a world filled with pain. At school, Travis is endlessly tormented by bullies, and the solace he should find at home simply does not exist. His parents ignore him, and, despite his best efforts, Travis cannot understand what he has done. His mother cannot look at him or talk to him, and his father simply comforts his mother, maybe sparing Travis an apologetic glance or two. The only comfort Travis can find in life is by cutting his skin to get a rush of adrenaline and feeling. Things begin to look up for Travis when two major events occur: a new student befriends Travis and a teacher introduces Travis to the art medium of paper cutting. While Travis doesn't immediately open up to his new friend Chyvonne, the time they spend together slowly heals him as does his newfound obsession with pouring his feelings into an art form. When readers finally discover that Travis' mother was a victim of rape and that Travis was the result, all the negative energy finally begins to disperse and Travis and his family can begin their path towards healing.

      Cutter Boy is part of Lorimer's "Side Streets" series which publishes high interest, "edgy" books to appeal to the reluctant reader population. The book is short in length, making it a non-intimidating book to pick up, and the plot's action starts immediately so the reader is drawn in right away. The vocabulary is very accessible, and while the text itself is simple, it flows well and makes it an appealing read, a characteristic which can sometimes be lost in these high interest books.

      What first grabbed me about this book was that the subject of cutting fills a gap in teen literature. One often sees books on drugs or different forms of abuse, but self-harm does not seem to be represented very often. At times, the descriptions of cutting were difficult to read and verging on gruesome, but they didn't last long, and so one is able to push through any squeamishness. Because of these vivid descriptions, the age appropriateness is difficult to pin down as the rest of the book is quite tame, but the cutting descriptions might be hard for some to stomach. Having said that, the realism of these parts is very crucial as they make the book even more relevant to today's youth.

      Travis was a very sympathetic and realistic character that could appeal to a wide range of readers. Because of the dark subject matter, there was a danger that he could come across as disagreeable, but the author portrays him in such a realistic manner that the reader can only feel for him. The descriptions of the paper art were also very intriguing and will likely inspire readers to go look up the artists and their work. One critique of the text is the presence of romance between Travis and Chyvonne. This felt quite artificial, likely due to the fact that the feelings came on so fast, and it would have been nice to simply have a male/female friendship that did not turn into romance.

      Cutter Boy is definitely one of the better high interest reads out there today, and it fills a very important gap in teen literature.


Stephanie Johnson is a graduate of the Master of Library and Information Studies Program from the University of Alberta.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.
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