Review: Cut Me Free by JR Johansson

Cut Me Free
JR Johansson

Farrar, Straus, Giroux
I received an ARC from the publisher.
Released January 27, 2015
YA / Real Life / Thriller

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Seventeen-year-old Charlotte barely escaped from her abusive parents. Her little brother, Sam, wasn't as lucky. Now she's trying to begin the new life she always dreamed of for them, but never thought she'd have to experience alone. She's hired a techie-genius with a knack for forgery to remove the last ties to her old life. But while she can erase her former identity, she can’t rid herself of the memories. And her troubled history won’t let her ignore the little girl she sees one day in the park. The girl with the bruises and burn marks.

That’s when Charlotte begins to receive the messages. Threatening notes left in her apartment--without a trace of entry. And they’re addressed to Piper, her old name. As the messages grow in frequency, she doesn’t just need to uncover who is leaving them; she needs to stop whoever it is before anyone else she loves ends up dead.

Oh man, this was not the follow up book I needed after The Rule of Three: Fight for Power. I was already paranoid and hating humanity. Then I start reading this story about a 17-year-old girl, who was running from her abusive past only for it to continuously hunt her down. By the end I just wanted all of the world to die in a fire. Cut Me Free is a brutal book to get through for someone with a highly sensitive empathy switch. There were several times I had to put the book down and walk away, but that’s more a testament to the rawness of Johansson’s writing.

Charlotte spent most of her life locked in an attic, physically and mentally abused by her parents and not even existing as far as the rest of the world was concerned. After one particularly traumatic incident, she managed to escape and run halfway across the country to start a life in a world she’s never known. She contacts a forgery expert who is conveniently a very attractive teenage boy to help her start her new life and hide away from any remnants of her past that might track her down.

After saving a small girl from a similar situation, Charlotte finds her new life quickly falling to pieces as threatening notes start arriving at her apartment. Rather than run and give up the life she has built for herself, Charlotte faces the terrors of her past and the unknown horrors that might be surrounding her.

Johannson doesn’t shy away from details of child abuse. While she doesn’t relish in them either, there’s enough setup and enough implied that I felt physically ill from time to time, especially in any real-time scenes. It’s all pretty horrifying, real-life stuff that my brain can only handle a little bit at a time. Once everyone’s background is out in the open, the more thriller-based aspects of the story start roaring along and Cut Me Free becomes more of a general thriller story with a creepy bad guy.

This was one of my attempt to read outside my preferred genre and while it was a difficult read due to subject matter, it’s a well-crafted story with characters that I genuinely feared for and a plot that moves rapidly from bleak to bleaker before everything explodes into one massively heart-pounding scene. Everything was a little too “it happens in real life” for my comfort, but it’s a well-written book that easily put me out of my comfort zone. If you’re into contemporary crime thrillers, Cut Me Free is worth giving a shot.


I received a free ARC of this book from the publisher in return for an honest review. Thoughts are all my own.