Book Reviews

I have tried to make this list as exhaustive a bibliography as possible. I do not recommend every book on this list. In fact, I recommend that you not read some of them; if that's the case, I try to make it clear in the review.

These reviews represent my own opinions. They may or may not represent yours, but I have tried to include a general idea of the content to help you decide which books to read.

Most of these books are not Christian. Since the fiction books are geared towards a younger audience and since the content varies so widely, I have noted the amount of objectionable material they contain. The nonfiction books are, of course, mostly clean, but some objectionable content can be found in the case studies presented. Strong's and Hyman's books rely most heavily on case studies, so they will have the most foul language—although it's still not much compared to Crosses or Sleeveless.

Since these are books about self-injury, most or all contain descriptions of self-injurious acts. Some descriptions may be triggering, so be careful how and when you read these books.


Self-Injury: When Pain Feels Good by Edward T. Welch (Phillipsburg, New Jersey: P&R Publishing, 2004).
My biggest problem with this book was its length. The small 28 pages and large type didn't allow for much more than the barest treatment of the subject. A longer book would have permitted separate chapters for self-injurers and family/friends as well as space to expand some of the book's important topics, including the book's thesis that self-injury points to God and the way this relates to the Gospel message. It's quite possible to finish this book with more questions than answers, largely because some concepts needed to be explained in more depth. On the other hand, this book does mark a breakthrough: the first Christian book on self-injury. Furthermore, it does a good job at engaging the topic from a Christian perspective, rather than presenting secular information with the occasional proof-text. It is unfortunate that some of the Christian material is presented a bit harshly, and self-injurers should make sure to be safe before reading. Still, this book could change lives—and in 28 pages, that's a big accomplishment.

Bodies Under Siege: Self-mutilation and Body Modification in Culture and Psychiatry by Armando Favazza (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1996).
This was a groundbreaking book when first published in 1987. Favazza is a cultural psychiatrist, so he examines how self-injurious acts are viewed in different cultures and religions before examining the kind of self-injury discussed on this site, which he calls moderate-superficial self-mutilation. While this book is rather technical in certain places, it is a wonderful source for statistics on self-injury, providing a wealth of information about the research that has been done. Due to the many descriptions of self-injurious acts, however, it may prove highly triggering for self-injurers. Those for whom this is the case may want to skip chapters 5-8 entirely. Of all the books on the list, this is probably the most academic and most comprehensive.

The Scarred Soul: Understanding & Ending Self-Inflicted Violence by Tracy Alderman (Oakland: New Harbinger, 1997).
This is my favorite book to recommend for those who self-injure. Alderman's gentle book alternates explanations and activities, making it a combination of book and workbook. It has a wonderful section on finding a therapist as well as sections for family and friends and for therapists themselves. It's one of the older books—if 1997 can be considered old—but it's still one of the best, and it's less jarring than Strong's or Hyman's books.

A Bright Red Scream: Self-Mutilation and the Language of Pain by Marilee Strong (New York: Penguin, 1998).
Marilee Strong is a wonderful writer who has written a journalistic investigation of self-injury, mingling research and information with many people's stories. She explores the various facets of self-injury before looking into means of recovery; a chapter on the SAFE Alternatives program is very revealing. Unfortunately, this book has the potential to be very triggering for self-injurers; I would, however, recommend it to family, friends, and others who want to understand what self-injury is and why people do it.

Women Living With Self-Injury by Jane Wegscheider Hyman (Philadelphia: Temple UP, 1999).
Hyman interviewed fifteen self-injuring women ages 25 to 51 to get a picture of self-injury, which she supplemented with professional journal articles and other resources. All fifteen women were Caucasian-American (no women of other ethnic backgrounds responded), and all but one were sexually or physically abused as children, but given these parameters, her book does an exceptional job of describing self-injury. Hyman examines these women's lives at home and work as well as their struggles towards recovery. I would specifically recommend this book to professionals because of its compassion and depth of insight. It's less suitable for self-injurers because it has the potential to be extremely triggering, but some family and friends may find it useful, if heartbreaking at times.

Cutting: Understanding and Overcoming Self-Mutilation by Steven Levenkron (New York: W.W. Norton, 1999).
Levenkron comes from a psychodynamic perspective, which focuses on quality of relationships (especially with parents) as a primary factor contributing to self-injury. He attempts to illustrate this with many case studies, but these stories seem at times to dominate the book; Levenkron tends to assume that the stories can communicate his main points for him, sometimes leaving the reader confused. Meanwhile, the book suffers from a near-complete lack of empirical evidence—it doesn't even have a bibliography, just a list of "recommended readings." When Levenkron makes absolute, controversial claims, such as, "Healthy parenting does not produce a self-mutilating child" (p. 47), he does not back this up with research, just another case study. The lack of solid research and factual evidence severely weakens this book. While Cutting contains some thought-provoking ideas for therapists to consider, it does not address self-injury beyond the age of thirty, nor does it allow for variety in therapeutic styles. This book does have some useful things to say, but in the end, it is what it is: a flawed psychodynamic meditation on the nature and treatment of self-injury.

Healing the Hurt Within: Understand and Relieve the Suffering Behind Self-Destructive Behavior by Jan Sutton (Oxford: Pathways, 1999).

Bodily Harm: The Breakthrough Healing Program for Self-Injurers by Karen Conterio and Wendy Lader (New York: Hyperion, 1998).

Secret Scars: Uncovering and Understanding the Addiction of Self-Injury by V.J. Turner (Center City, MN: Hazelden, 2002).

Women Who Hurt Themselves: A Book of Hope and Understanding by Dusty Miller (New York: BasicBooks, 1994).


Skin Game by Caroline Kettlewell (New York: St. Martin's Griffin, 1999).
I was very excited when this book, the first autobiographical work on self-injury, was published, but Skin Game leaves something to be desired. Kettlewell tries to make the ups and downs of middle and high school into high drama, using enough analogies and big words to frustrate most of her readership. In a book whose audience is the general public, words like "revenant," "vicissitudes," and "liminal" are out of place. The unfortunate result is a very slow-paced book; in fact, it seems that nothing really happens until the second half. Kettlewell occasionally pauses to tell us what should be happening at this point in her story, saying things like, "Here's the part where I'm supposed to have the big epiphany" (p. 175); these digressions only take away from her book. I would venture to say that since this is, after all, the first autobiographical work on self-injury, she can tell her story however she likes. In terms of worldview, the book is very existential: the author describes her meaningless life and presents, as the solution, her realization that she only gets one life, so she should make the best of it. I found myself wishing and longing for her to know Christ, who could speak to the meaninglessness in a much better way. This book does contain the occasional profound insight, including some thoughts on the spiritual nature of self-injury and her epiphany that no cut would ever be enough. Although Skin Game is characterized more by advanced vocabulary than by crude language, the author does include a few strong swear words. I hesitate to recommend this book due to its difficult reading level and its existential worldview.

No More Pain!: Breaking the Silence of Self-Injury by Vicki F. Duffy (Longwood, FL: Xulon, 2004).
It is obvious that Ms. Duffy is sincere and that she loves the Lord. Furthermore, after all she's been through, it is a testimony to God's grace that she is even alive to tell her story. The book she has written, however, has some problems. In discussing psychological concepts, she alternates between sections based on God's Word and sections that say nothing about God. There's nothing wrong with encouraging readers to "Make Good Choices Today" (p. 76), but such an exhortation would be much stronger if she referred to what Scripture says on the subject; for example, one could build a solid framework around Psalm 32:8, Psalm 119:105, Proverbs 3:5-7, and 2 John 5-6. Theologically, Ms. Duffy is on dangerous ground when she promotes a gospel of healing rather than of salvation. Jesus himself puts the emphasis on salvation when he says in Luke 19:10 that "the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost." In Luke 10:20, Jesus also tells the seventy-two not to rejoice that the spirits submit to them (miracles) but to rejoice that their names are written in heaven (salvation). Paul continues this emphasis when he says in Romans 1:17 that "in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed," linking the Gospel with God's righteousness. Ms. Duffy, on the other hand, says, "Wherever I go I tell people that He heals anyone of anything, anytime" (p. 43). This is never promised in Scripture; one only has to remember Paul's famous thorn, which God refused to take away (2 Corinthians 12:7-10). This book also should have been revised and edited much more thoroughly, since the many grammatical and typographical errors are distracting to the reader. Ms. Duffy certainly has a story to tell; unfortunately, I cannot recommend her book due to the philosophical and theological problems it has.


With any fiction book, someone inevitably complains, "That's not how it is." The problem with self-injury is that it is done in so many different ways, for so many different reasons, that one fiction book cannot possibly capture everyone's story. We should judge a book, then, not by the particulars of the story but by the quality of the message it carries—assuming it's suitable to read at all (see Philippians 4:8). Note that all four of these books contain potentially triggering scenes of self-injury.

The Luckiest Girl in the World by Steven Levenkron (New York: Penguin, 1997).
Steven Levenkron, author of the nonfiction book Cutting, also wrote this book, a fictional exploration of self-injury as viewed from the psychodynamic perspective. Katie is a figure skater and a dissociative cutter whose world begins to fall apart as her self-injury worsens. Levenkron does a good job at recording the negative self-talk that too often accompanies self-injurers' daily lives, but it's obvious that this book advocates his particular theories and treatment style for self-injury. While this weakness is understandable, given that The Luckiest Girl in the World came out two years before Cutting, it can still be frustrating for the reader. This book does contain occasional bad language and crude expressions, but although the language is present, it does not dominate the book. Not the best fiction book out there, but it isn't bad, either.

Cut by Patricia McCormick (New York: Scholastic, 2002).
Cut is not just about self-injury; it's about the process of recovery. This book, my favorite of these four fiction books, deals lightheartedly with the weaknesses and absurdities of a treatment center while emphasizing the need to work with it, rather than against it. Characters explore different ways of recovering—or not recovering—and the reader sees the results. This book's language is mostly clean, with occasional mild-to-moderate bad language. More importantly, the characters generally are able to think and express their feelings without foul language, a rarity in "troubled teen" books.

Crosses by Shelley Stoehr (Lincoln, NE: iUniverse, 2003).
When it came out in 1991, this was the first fiction book dealing with self-injury. It's actually more about drug use than self-injury, following two teenage girls who live a lifestyle of alcohol, drugs, sex, and cutting. Amazingly, when destruction results, the author concludes that no one is to blame. Crosses has a disrespectful tone almost to the last page, and we're never sure if the main character gives up drugs or not. The book contains strong, frequent bad language and a few sex scenes. Since Crosses has so much negative content and lacks a clear message against drugs and cutting, I do not recommend this book.

Sleeveless by Joi Brozek (Los Angeles: Phony Lid, 2002).
I couldn't finish this book. The cover description characterizes it as a book about self-injury, although I had yet to read about self-injury by page 45. In those 45 pages, however, I had encountered so much sexual slang and so many detailed descriptions of sex acts that I felt sick to my stomach. Readers may also be offended at the disrespectful way in which the author portrays Catholicism and may not appreciate that the storyline includes an abortion. I do not recommend this book simply because of the volume of sexual content and the detail in which these acts are described.

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