Genre: YA Contemporary
Word Count: 52,000 words
Super-brain Alexis likes everything exactly so. Perfect prep school grades. School supplies arranged eight inches apart in parallel lines. Timed phone calls with her mother. Scheduled hook-ups with her boyfriend Ben on Thursday, Saturday, and Sunday nights. As long as her secret self-destructive streak is hidden, all is well.
But then Alexis receives a bright red B on an English paper, and endures an excruciating break-up with no explanation. And now parallel cuts run down her leg an inch apart, one for each day since Ben broke up with her. She bangs her head, burns herself—anything to soothe herself and assert some control.
When her friend Miranda accidentally glimpses her scars, Alexis feels even more trapped. Now she must survive weekly therapy sessions with a counselor, forced disclosure to her parents, and worst of all: dismissal from school if she doesn’t get better. It’s up to Alexis to pull herself out of the mire—if she even wants to.
As an educator and a teacher consultant for the National Writing Project, I know how much the stories of others can speak to teenagers trying to make sense of their own lives. Although there have been other novels about cutting (for example, Patricia McCormick’s Cut and Cheryl Rainfield’s Scars), Outside In examines the correlation between perfectionism and self-harm, a survival mechanism for intense pressure.
A bright red B. Oh my God. My lowest grade ever.
I rubbed my cheek as hard as I could and stuffed the paper into my binder. I didn’t bother to check the comments—plenty of time to memorize those later.
My throat closed up and I couldn’t draw a full breath. One full grade less than an A. My G.P.A. would sink. Miranda would pass me in class rank.
What would my mother say?
The bell rang, and Miranda and I headed to the door. Once we were in the hallway, she burst out, “I got an A! What about you?”
“Mmm,” I said, half-nodding.
She prattled on about her comments and each word stabbed at my stomach.
I couldn’t listen to her any longer, and escaped to the bathroom. I made it to the safety of a stall before the dam burst and the tears started flowing.
Why didn’t I work harder? I didn’t deserve an A anyway. Dummy, lazy, fat moron.
I jerked my left sleeve up. A paper clip would do, one of those big ones in my English binder. I uncurled the clip, molding the metal into a straight line. When my sleeve was up all the way, I scraped the clip back and forth across my fat upper arm until beads of blood popped up.
It wasn’t enough. I scraped four more times, changing the line into an angular B.
Shame on my body now too. The scratches would burn and remind me what I’d done. Exactly what I deserved.