I always know a book has touched something deep inside me when days after finishing it, I’m still immersed in the world of the characters and wondering how they’re doing since I last read about them! Yes, I do know there’s a difference between fictional characters and actual human beings, but Johansson has peopled her YA novel, CUT ME FREE, with characters who truly come alive on the page.
Center stage is seventeen-year-old Charlotte who thinks she killed her abusive parents after they forced her to bury her little brother Sam. She carries around enormous grief and survivor’s guilt that she’d been unable to save Sam from their parents’ horrendous cruelty.
Once on her own, she settles in a large city and creates a new identity with the help of Cam, a young but talented forger. What she hasn’t been able to leave behind, however, is her painful memories, and Sam’s voice continuing to speak to her inside her head.
Nor can she ignore the burns and bruises on Sanda, a little girl she encounters one day at the park. She wasn’t able to save Sam, but perhaps, she thinks, she can save this little girl. She follows her home and ultimately stages a daring escape and brings Sanda to live with her.
But then the threatening notes begin to appear in Charlotte’s apartment, addressed to Piper, her old name. Are her parents somehow still alive? And what about the man who was torturing Sanda? Has he somehow found them and discovered Charlotte’s real identity?
The suspense mounts as Charlotte investigates. It’s impossible not to root for her. She’s not only survived unimaginable horrors but she emerges as a deeply empathetic, caring person who tries to protect Sanda at all costs.
Johansson also gives us a very realistic picture of how long it can take for someone who’s been severely abused to learn to trust anyone. Cam is strongly drawn to Charlotte, and she to him, but at first, she can’t even stand to have him touch her arm. It is only his refusal to give up on her, and his unconditional acceptance of whatever she may have done to protect herself and Sanda, that ultimately shatters the walls she has built around her heart.
Ultimately, this novel is much more than an engaging story rife with page-turning suspense. It is an unforgettable tale of resilience, hope, and the transformative power of love.
CUT ME FREE
By J.R. Johansson
298 pp. Farar Straus Giroux, 2015