The Luckiest Girl in the World: A young skater battlres her self-destructive impulses

Overview

Just looking at Katie Roskova, you'd think she had it all: she was pretty, popular, an A-student at an exclusive private school, and on her way to becoming a champion figure skater. But there was another Katie-the one she hid from the world-who was having trouble dealing with the mounting pressures of her young life. And it was this Katie who, with no other means of expression available to her, reacted to her overbearing mother, her absent father, her unforgiving schedule, and her oblivious classmates by turning ...

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Overview

Just looking at Katie Roskova, you'd think she had it all: she was pretty, popular, an A-student at an exclusive private school, and on her way to becoming a champion figure skater. But there was another Katie-the one she hid from the world-who was having trouble dealing with the mounting pressures of her young life. And it was this Katie who, with no other means of expression available to her, reacted to her overbearing mother, her absent father, her unforgiving schedule, and her oblivious classmates by turning her self-doubt into self-hatred. And into self-mutilation.In his previous novel, The Best Little Girl in the World, Steven Levenkron brought insight, expertise, and sensitivity to the painful subject of anorexia nervosa. Now he applies these same talents to demystifying a condition that is just as heartbreaking, and becoming more common everyday. Through his depiction of Katie's self-mutilating behavior-she is called "a cutter" by her peers-and her triumphant road to recovery, he offers a compelling profile of a young girl in trouble, and much-needed hope to the growing numbers who suffer from this shocking syndrome.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
As he did in 1978's The Best Little Girl in the World, psychotherapist Levenkron tells a simple fictional tale to illustrate a real-world problem that afflicts millions of adolescent girls. The protagonist of The Best Little Girl suffered from anorexia. Here, 15-year-old Katie Roskova is a compulsive self-mutilator, or "cutter." Katie is beautiful, poised and highly intelligent. A successful competition figure skater with a scholarship to an exclusive prep school, she's driven by her own fear of failure and by her relentlessly ambitious mother. Behind Katie's winning stage smile lurks an anxiety that she can relieve only by cutting herself until she draws blood. Though Katie has practiced self-mutilation since she was 13, her problem has remained undetected. But now her mental health is quickly deteriorating, and alert school administrators detect a cry for help. Levenkron's prose and plot are simplistic, offering less complexity than a good YA novel. His story never aspires to be anything but an instrument for raising an issue. This Levenkron does ably, squarely confronting and clarifying a problem with a minimum of sentimentality. (Mar.)
Library Journal
Fifteen-year-old figure skater and private-school scholarship student Katie Roskova has no time for friends. Her self-sacrificing mother makes sure of that. In public, Katie wears a megawatt smile meant to fool everyone, but she hides a dark secret. Sometimes she "spaces out" and cuts herself, which seems to lower her stress. One day after repeatedly banging her head into the wall following a difficult skating session, Katie is whisked away to the hospital and ordered into therapy. Much as Katie resists the help of therapist Sandy Sherman, he becomes a source of hope. Psychotherapist Levenkron, who dealt with anorexia in The Best Little Girl in the World (1978), offers no neat, tidy ending, but Katie makes progress. Despite its resemblance to a YA "problem novel," this work offers psychological insights that run deep. Levenkron has taken a timely issue threatening many adolescents today and successfully created a sympathetic and suspenseful story.-Keddy Ann Outlaw, Harris Cty. P.L., Houston
Kirkus Reviews
Nearly 20 years after his exposé on anorexia, The Best Little Girl in the World (1978), Manhattan psychotherapist Levenkron tackles the subject of the self-mutilation syndrome, offering less of a novel than an awareness guide for troubled teenagers.

Katie Roskova, a 15-year-old figure-skating hopeful, has a grueling schedule of early morning and after-school practice, plus the pressure of maintaining high grades to retain her scholarship at a private school. Despite all the strain, though, Katie's an angel, pleasing all; in reality, of course, it's a ruse. To deal with the confusion and insecurity of teenage life, Katie maintains her calm facade at a grisly cost: She ritualistically cuts herself when she feels out of control. There are numerous passages here, unsettling in their quiet terror, describing the slow precision with which Katie takes a pair of sewing scissors to her arm until the cut is deep and bloody enough to satisfy her compulsive urge. Eventually, her arms are covered with scars, hidden by her long- sleeved shirts. This is compelling, even shocking, material, but Levenkron's approach is generally one-dimensional, making the narrative seem more case study than a work of fiction. Katie's background is predictable: Her mother is abusive and domineering, her father absent, and everyone drives her to succeed at all costs. When Katie is finally caught abusing herself (repeatedly slamming her locker door shut on her hand), she's sent to Sandy Sherman for therapy. The predictability is further reinforced when Sandy enters the picture—he creates a safe space within which Katie can confront her hostility toward her mother. The psychopathology of the illness, though, and the methods for treating it, will scarcely be new or surprising for many readers in our psycho-savvy age.

Undoubtedly helpful for anyone having to deal with the self- mutilation syndrome, but as fiction it sadly lacks deftness either in plotting or in character.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780140266252
  • Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 3/10/1998
  • Pages: 192
  • Sales rank: 1,549,987
  • Product dimensions: 5.03 (w) x 7.73 (h) x 0.54 (d)

Meet the Author

Steven Levenkron has treated anorexics and cutters as part of his full-time psychotherapy practice in New York City since 1970. He has held positions in many hospitals in the New York metropolitan area, among them, clinical consultant at Montefiore Hospital and Medical Center, clinical consultant at The Center for the Study of Anorexia and Bulimia in New York City, and adjunct director of Eating Disorder Service at Four Winds Psychiatric Hospital in Westchester, New York. Currently he is a member of the advisory board of The National Association of Anorexia and Bulimia (ANAD) in Highland Park, Illinois.

His previous book, the groundbreaking novel The Best Little Girl in the World, dealt with the subjects of anorexia and bulimia, and was made into a television movie.

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Reading Group Guide

INTRODUCTION
Anyone who doesn't really know Katie Roskova would think she was a model teenager: studious, smart and attractive, and a talented, hard-working athlete to boot—even if she is quiet and doesn't socialize much with her classmates. But who really knows Katie? She appears to be the luckiest girl in the world. The truth, as Steven Levenkron points out, is that she is desperately unhappy. Driven by her mother to achieve unrealistic goals in her junior skating career, Katie is both angry and ashamed at her inability to meet her mother's—and her own—expectations. With her father out of the picture and no close friends at school, Katie has no one to whom she can express these overwhelming feelings. Her solution, internalizing her anger and turning it against herself, has devastating consequences.

Young people like Katie are more common than you might think. There are currently an estimated 1.9 million "cutters" in America. This practice generally begins in adolescence but can continue for decades if not treated properly. Adolescence is a particularly difficult time for many, when social pressures to be "normal" can make just about anyone feel awkward and incompetent. For those without the emotional support of parents or some other adult to turn to, or whose home situations offer only further psychological and physical distress, the bad feelings can become intolerable. It's natural to turn these feelings inward, but for some kids, that can be psychologically harmful and physically dangerous. Repressing emotion can lead to a kind of numbness. As a result, many kids find that cutting themselves forces them to feel something, and reminds them that they are alive. For others, cutting presents a challenge to withstand pain—a chance to prove to themselves that they can handle just about anything. But of course, nobody should be expected to handle pain alone. Unfortunately, that's just how many adolescents feel—isolated, ashamed, and unwilling to trust anyone enough to share their anger and fear.

What do we learn from Katie's story? Perhaps she is lucky after all. Finding a therapist sensitive enough to let Katie tell her own story and yet persistent enough to keep her in therapy isn't easy. Many therapists are hesitant to take on clients who cut themselves; they find the practice abhorrent, and frequently refer these patients to mental hospitals because they are afraid of the possibility of suicide. Books like The Luckiest Girl in the World will help many adolescents and adults alike understand that cutting is actually a symptom of an often highly treatable problem, that it is more common than people think, and that by ignoring or refusing to acknowledge the problem we are not only endangering the welfare of the cutters themselves, we are also reinforcing the feelings that lead them to harm themselves in the first place.

Just looking at Katie Roskova, you'd think she had it all: she was pretty, popular, an A-student at an exclusive private school, and on her way to becoming a champion figure skater. But there was another Katie—the one she hid from the world—who was having trouble dealing with the mounting pressures of her young life. And it was this Katie who, with no other means of expression available to her, reacted to her overbearing mother, her absent father, her unforgiving schedule, and her oblivious classmates by turning her self-doubt into self-hatred. And into self-mutilation.

In his previous novel, The Best Little Girl in the World, Steven Levenkron brought insight, expertise, and sensitivity to the painful subject of anorexia nervosa. Now he applies these same talents to demystifying a condition that is just as heartbreaking, and becoming more common everyday. Through his depiction of Katie's self-mutilating behavior—she is called "a cutter" by her peers—and her triumphant road to recovery, he offers a compelling profile of a young girl in trouble, and much-needed hope to the growing numbers who suffer from this shocking syndrome.

ABOUT STEVEN LEVENKRON

Steven Levenkron has treated anorexics and cutters as part of his full-time psychotherapy practice in New York City since 1970. He has held positions in many hospitals in the New York metropolitan area, among them, clinical consultant at Montefiore Hospital and Medical Center, clinical consultant at The Center for the Study of Anorexia and Bulimia in New York City, and adjunct director of Eating Disorder Service at Four Winds Psychiatric Hospital in Westchester, New York. Currently he is a member of the advisory board of The National Association of Anorexia and Bulimia (ANAD) in Highland Park, Illinois.

His previous book, the groundbreaking novel The Best Little Girl in the World, dealt with the subjects of anorexia and bulimia, and was made into a television movie.

PRAISE

A 1998 ALA Best Book for Young Adults

A CONVERSATION WITH STEVEN LEVENKRON

Is it true that "cutters" tend to be girls rather than boys?

Yes. Eighty percent of all cutters are girls. And the reason for that is that girls are more apt to self-inflict pain as a means of protecting those around them, the people with whom they're really angry. Girls don't get as "simply" angry as boys. They are concerned that their anger will damage others, and so it seems safer, to them, to express this anger inwardly, toward themselves, rather than externally, toward those around them. By and large, women do take their anger out on themselves. The other thing that is interesting is that a lot of these girls are normally very outgoing, charming, delightful people. This is the false self they present to the outside world. These girls can get close to others, but you cannot get close to them.

Are cutters born with these tendencies?

Some are born with a higher level of anxiety and depression, traits that they do inherit genetically. But if you combine these traits with conditions in which they are emotionally or physically abused the result can be that these children feel trapped. They become unable to form emotional attachments. This results in a failure to trust others, and finally a failure to depend on others. Now, if you can form an attachment with a cutter, then the trust and the dependency can follow.

So that's where the role of the therapist comes in.

That's right. You see, cutting is a language. It's a way of expressing what can't be expressed in words. So many people are blinded by the behavior because they find it so repulsive. What's really more important is the underlying situation that led to this type of behavior.

It seems odd that Katie's mother never noticed her daughter's scars. Are parents often "willfully" ignorant of problems like Katie's ?

Children are very good at concealing these scars. Although each cut is a severe cry for help, the girls are too sick to actually reach out. So they find places on their bodies that are easily concealed, such as their forearms or upper arms, their upper thighs or their stomach. They'll wear long sleeves and pants even in summer to hide these scars.

Still, you'd think a parent would notice this type of thing!

Well, a lot of parents are on the run from adolescence. What I mean by that is, they've been conditioned to believe that this is an age in which privacy is very important—many parents fear their children's anger at the invasion of privacy—and so they don't consider inspecting their children. But the thing about privacy is that it can lead to isolation. I'm not saying that bedroom doors should be open doors at all times, but when privacy is taken to the extreme, it becomes hiding, and that behavior needs to be eliminated.

What kinds of stresses in addition to parental pressure can lead to this kind of behavior?

There are three kinds of scenarios. The hardest is where there is cruelty by a parent or older siblings. This can take the form of emotional, physical, and sexual abuse. In this case the child learns that pain is part of living. The more benign scenario is a child who is overlooked by exhausted and depleted parents. And then there is the situation in which a parent, usually a mother, will express her own unhappiness by making emotionally needy statements. This can make the child feel responsible for the parent's happiness. That is another reason why girls so often turn to cutting, since they tend to be protective of the people around them. We should shield our children from certain kinds of honesty.

If someone were to suspect a friend or classmate of having this type of problem, what should he or she do?

The best thing you can do is call her on it. Say, "It looks as if you're cutting yourself. Do you think you want to talk about it?" A lot of cutters will pass off their scars as accidents, such as a fall from rollerblading. But because these people don't have a language with which to express themselves it's important to help them put these feelings into words. Unfortunately, there are a lot of therapists who choose not to handle this type of case, and would rather see the child in a hospital. They can't get past the idea of what cutting is. But these are only surface injuries. The real harm is what's going on inside, the feelings that cutters don't have words for. Cutting is their language. Cutting is like writing a diary in blood on their skin.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

Questions for a Mother/Daughter Discussion

  • What kinds of words would you use to describe Katie? Are these qualities unusual in a girl her age? How do these qualities contribute to her psychological state? Which of these qualities could be useful to help her overcome her difficulties?
     
  • Some of the most telling passages in the book occur on the skating rink. In the first scene, Katherine fumes while her daughter misses a jump. Katie feels so frustrated she is tempted to quit, and feels that Ron, her coach, is being "too nice to her. She would have felt better if he yelled at her." What does this scene reveal about Katie and her mother? How does it set the stage for Katie's self-destructive behavior?
     
  • Do you think Katie's mother is responsible for her daughter's unhappiness? We find out that Katherine has sacrificed both time and money for her daughter's skating lessons, so it is understandable that she wants to see Katie succeed. Do you think that Katherine should stop pushing Katie? Would it be better for Katie not to skate at all? As a mother, are there instances in which you feel that you might have pushed your daughter too hard? As a daughter, do you feel that your mother often has unrealistic expectations of you? In the past, how have you responded to this pressure?
     
  • Certain incidents cause Katie to "space out," the term she uses to describe the feelings she experiences before she goes to cut herself. Try to imagine how she feels. What kinds of constructive things could Katie do to get herself through these frightening spells?
     
  • Katie's therapist, Sandy, recognizes Katie's "greatest liability and her greatest asset—her strength." How does being strong both help and hurt Katie?
     
  • How, specifically, does Sandy help Katie come to terms with her unhappiness? What sort of an environment does he provide for her? How do the girls in Katie's group help her cope with her problems? If you were her mother, how could you create this type of nurturing and healing enviornment for Katie?
     
  • What sorts of signs would you look for in people you know that would indicate the kind of trouble in their lives that would lead to self-mutilation or other self-destructive behavior? As a mother, if you found out that your daughter was hurting herself what would you do? As a daughter, what would you do if you found out that one of your classmates was hurting herself?
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 32 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 12, 2006

    Exelllent.

    As a cutter, I found that this book helped me understand myself and find hope. But if you're a cutter like me be forewarned, this book MAY BE TRIGGERING.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 15, 2008

    I Also Recommend:

    Decent

    I finished this book and I found it to be a moderate read. The same therapist is also in The Best Little Girl in the World, by the same author, and I found it refreshing that Katie did not whine as much as Kessa did. But, for some reason, I didn't find it as interesting as I thought it would be.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 19, 2008

    Very good book.

    This book is about a skater named Katie. She is pressured by her mom and also her coach to do really well because there is a scolarship on the line for her. she has a problem with cutting herself to keep herself from going into space. This book teaches people alittle bit about what happens when people cut themselves. I reccomend this book to anybody. It is a really good book.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 18, 2008

    Excellent! If you SI or know someone who does pick up this book!

    As a 'recovering' cutter this book hit home a lot but it also gave me an insight into part of why I cut. Although it might not be accurate for everyone it is still an amassing book. Ps: if you know a cutter doesn¿t force them into getting help. Tell them you think it¿s a good idea but don¿t force it. If they aren¿t ready to get help then it won¿t help. But I do encourage cutters to seek help.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 17, 2007

    i have read only have the book but its still asome

    well me being a rocovery cutter i know what shes dealing with i recommended this book to all people who si

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted September 29, 2005

    OMG!!!!!

    this is such a awsome book! i loved it. the ending was very good dramatic but awsome! i would recomend this book to anyone on the planet!!

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 10, 2005

    an amazing, relative book..

    this book was amazing. Katie goes through alot of stuff that teenagers go through today. most books are about un-realistic perfect lives and such.. but this book, many many people could relate to. I loved this book, because I could relate to it, as well as many other people my age. I would have to say, this is my all time favorite book.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 28, 2005

    Saw it coming the whole way...

    I'd read his other book 'The Best Little Girl In The World' a few years ago, it's interesting how simaliar the titles are, nearly exactly the same. So I had a feeling this book would be a lot like that one, and it was. It was very predictable. And sadly there was nothing quote worthy that I found from it.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 1, 2005

    Wonderful!

    I loved this book! As a recovering anorexic I completely relate to the causes of Katie's 'disease'. I would recommend this book to anyone.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 9, 2004

    AMAZING

    This book was AMAZING!!! it gets inside your head and makes you think twice about how to explain yourself to others. i think that this book was written for self-mutilators, someone with depression or someone wanting to know more about it. factual and straigh to the point about these types of problems. whoever said it was a bad book is wrong, they dont understand the true meaning of why people do these types of things, it isn't a petty subject. contact me if you would like to talk more about it (blondie78324@hotmail.com

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 3, 2004

    listen

    one girl wrote that this was not a good book. well that's just her opinion. my opinion will tell you to read it, it truly is an outstanding book, but you should really try to connect with katie and seriously understand her trauma....

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 6, 2004

    Unsucessful..?

    I did not think the issue was truthful portrayed what so ever. I think that the author tryed his best to bring such a drastic issue into play, but ended up disposing it. Yes, Katies mother was pushing her extremely hard, and she had this scholar ship that was slowly hanging her. But not all self mutilators have that. You read this book and you think theres no real reason for one to cut themselves. When a self mutiliator is diagnosed you usually find backround information about abuse or some sort ove childhood tramatic situations. Not because you are a teenager who is in this great school and has enormous talent. Needless to say, with out rambling, I did not like this book.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 9, 2004

    pretty good

    i think that this book would go a long way in helping people understand that self-mutilators are not crazy or sick that they just have emotional pain that needs dealing with. It was a very specific story that didn't include what the majority of the statistics say so sue him not every self-mutilators was abused in childhood but that does not mean it is not a good portrayal of the disease.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 28, 2003

    Amazing Book!

    I think this was a great book! I am an ice skater, so I know what she is going through. I highly recomend it!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 14, 2003

    ~*Great Book*~

    It's about a girl named Katie who cuts herself to make herself feel good. She's an ice skater and is really good and gets an enormous amount of pressure from her coach and her mom. I recomend this book because I really liked the book, i think the author did a good job on writing about Katie as a self-abuser and how much pressure she got from her coach and her mother. And it helps you understand more about the disease of cutting yourself and you know the struggles she went through and her emotions and how she coped with it. Overall its a great book and i hope everyone will have a chance and read it

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 13, 2003

    Cutting away at the truth

    She's not so crazy once you know why she does the things she does. This book would probably help anyone understand the world of self-mutilation. Given Katie's situation, everything makes sense. Once you read this book, you will start to look at things with more of an open opinion on people, even those you think are perfect.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 26, 2002

    GREAT BOOK!!!!1

    This is an amazing book. Its not just about the writing...you can really feel it and picture it and this is so realistic and well written. Its th best book I have ever read.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 5, 2002

    AWSOME BOOK!

    this coming from a 15 yr old cutter, i thought this book was great, it explain many resons of why i cut, its helping me everyday to want to get better...

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 29, 2002

    One of the best books i have ever read

    I think that this book was extremely good. My friend had trouble with cutting in the past and this helped me to realize what happened. I like this book because it makes you feel the pain in Katie's life. This is one of the best books I have ever read

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 12, 2001

    Dark

    I really enjoyed this book because I felt part of her was me. Although I am not a skater, I am pressured by many other things such as weight and composure. This book is a muct read not only for the troubled, but for someone who is interested in helping someone with this disease.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
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