Callie is an inmate at Sick Minds, a treament facility for the mentally and emotionally disturbed. In group, everyone talks about the behaviors that got them here in the first place– anorexia, bulemia, substance abuse, etc– everyone, that is, except Callie, who has been given the nickname S.T., Silent Treatment. While the other girls cry, talk, and attend treatments, Callie remains silent and floats around the facility watchful yet distant. She stares out the window and counts cars in the parking lot during group, she counts stripes in the wallpaper during therapy, and she does laundry while the others watch television during free time. Though she is interested in the dramas unfolding around her, Callie cannot summon the energy to move much less speak. Everything seems to take so much energy. Even sleeping is a dead end, and Callie lulls herself by identifying the unique sounds of each girl’s crying as she listens for the whisper of the night nurse’s shoes moving down the hall. When a new girl is added the group, Callie’s careful equilibrium is disrupted. Amanda is vocal and proud of her scars. Her personality clashes with the dynamic of the group and each girl feels threatened and exposed as Amanda picks at their mental and emotional scars. As the other girls express disgust at Amanda’s cutting, Callie pulls into herself further and, one evening, cuts herself with a stolen pie plate. Scared and exposed, Callie turns to her therapist and is finally able to speak, though haltingly. As the two slowly begin to unravel Callie’s silence and feelings of responsibility for her brother’s illness, Callie tries to use her voice outside of the safety of therapy, but finds that the energy it requires is still too much for her. Despite herself, however, Callie is drawn into the group when she witnesses one of the girls hiding food. The entire group is feels stunned and betrayed when the girl suffers a health crisis related to her refusal to eat, and each feels that she should have seen the signs. When one of the girls speaks up about her guilt, Callie finds her voice and tells the group that she knew and did nothing. Slowly Callie finds her place within the group and begins to heal the emotional wounds that brought her to Sea Pines. As she deals with her brother’s illness, her mother’s frustration, and her father’s absence, Callie’s story is slowly revealed and she finds the energy to confront her father and make peace with the past.
Told from Callie’s perspective, the story unfolds through memory and journal-like recounts of therapy sessions at Sea Pines. The reader is drawn in as the threads weave together to reveal Callie’s feelings of guilt and abandonment. The author creates realistic characters who are by turns endearing and irritating, and though the reader never hears the story of the other girls, each feels personal and alive. In some ways, failing to tell these stories makes the book more powerful. To take in all of their stories might have been overwhelming, but as a backdrop for one girl’s story, the whole works. Readers with personal experience with cutting will relate to both Callie and Amanda. Cutting is never glamorized, but McCormick does a good job of neither judging nor villianising either girl. Instead, she allows the responses of the other girls to illustrate the entire gambit of reactions. Adult characters range from caring to oblivious, psychotic to professional, and each plays a part in portraying a realistic treatment facility. Though slim, the book is packed with emotional depth. McCormick’s use of a nonlinear format strengthens the effect.