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An unspeakable loss. A relentless stalker. A desperate escape.
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 apartmentwithout 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.
Cut Me Free, a chilling YA novel by J. R. Johansson, is a riveting read full of darkness and hope.
"Johansson, author of the paranormal Night Walkers series, which includes Paranoia, immerses readers in an urban landscape of sadistic violence against girls and women. . . . This chiller for older teens offers an exceptional, albeit highly disturbing, narration by a survivor of abuse." VOYA
“A superb blend of mystery and romance, it’s never what you expect. A masterpiece.” Jennifer L. Armentrout, #1 New York Times–bestselling author of the Lux and Covenant series
About the Author
J.R. JOHANSSON is the author of the Night Walkers Series and CUT ME FREE. She lives in Utah with two sons, a wonderful husband, three cats, and a hot tub named Valentino.
Read an Excerpt
Cut Me Free
By J. R. Johansson
Farrar, Straus and GirouxCopyright © 2015 J. R. Johansson
All rights reserved.
The city embraces me. Shiny rectangles so tall I can barely make out where they end and the sky begins. They wrap me in shadow. Hiding me. Holding me. In this single moment, I feel safe here, and I don't remember the last time I felt safe anywhere. The sun sets against an unseen horizon, but I don't head back to the hotel. No one waits for me there.
The sounds and smells of this place are like a different world. It smells like people, so many people. I'm accustomed to the smell of emptiness, but it would be foreign in a place so full. No, it's more than full. It is bursting with life. The scent of Rittenhouse Square fills the air around me, green and lush. I'm encircled by millions of breaths taken at once—surrounded by life. The best thing the Parents ever did for me was to go down without giving me much trouble. At least I only had to escape once. I'm not positive that they're dead, but I certainly tried. And I really can't think about that now.
Instead, I need to live. Everything I've ever known is death and pain; being drenched in life feels good.
Closing my eyes, I extend my arms and the warmth of the city flows around me, flows through me. No more pain. No more clawing fingers dying to break another bone or raise another bruise on my pale skin. No more cruel eyes and words twisting my world. Now they are dying. Now they are dead.
And I don't regret what I've done.
I open my eyes and squint at the statue across from the bench I'm sitting on. It depicts a battle—fierce combat, lives at stake. A massive lion crushing a serpent beneath his claw in the final victory of a fight to the death. In some ways, I relate more to these animals than to the people in the park around me. I struggle to move past my own battle, still remembering every moment of the fight for my life yet never able to celebrate the triumph.
Lifting my wrist, I check the time on my watch. It's a digital one I found in a kids' section of a department store. I haven't quite figured out the twirling hands of its more confusing counterpart. And the adult ones were all loose on my too thin wrists. There aren't many people in this section of Rittenhouse Square, and all of them were here when I arrived fifteen minutes ago. He's late. Only five minutes, but that's five minutes too many. There is nowhere I need to be, but it doesn't matter. He's my fourth attempt. The first didn't show up. The second, I left the minute he let his eyes wander a little too freely. The third didn't seem intelligent enough to entrust my future in her hands. If I'm going to hire this Cameron Angelo person, I need to be sure he will do what I ask, when I ask. I need to be certain he knows his business.
If this doesn't work out, I'll move on to the next name that my money can buy me in a shady bar or dark alley. Illegal services are easy to obtain, especially in a big city like Philadelphia. If you can find the right places to search and are okay with paying for the information, you can get anything. The books Nana used to slip me in the dead of night were more educational than I ever imagined. The ones she'd let me keep taught me the most—Flowers in the Attic, Oliver Twist, and Kidnapped. She'd been planning my escape for a long time, but neither of us thought I'd be doing it alone.
We'd shared a favorite quote. The paper that held it had been as yellowed and wrinkled as Nana's hands, but I still wish I'd brought it with me. She'd ripped it from an old tattered book of English poets. Only two lines from a poem, but Nana said it should bring me hope.
"Though my soul may set in darkness, it will rise in perfect light; I have loved the stars too fondly to be fearful of the night."
I mutter the words three times under my breath, my heart holding tight to the quote with a grip stronger than my fear. There is nothing I need more right now than hope. I shove aside the aching pit that replaces my insides whenever I think of Nana or Sam and get to my feet. Switching my suitcase to my other hand, I squeeze it until my fingers stop trembling. I couldn't leave it in the hotel—it holds two hundred and thirteen thousand reasons not to. Only ten thousand less than it had when I packed it. Not bad for over a year on my own, but living under the radar doesn't exactly play well with extravagance anyway. Even now, it feels weird dragging my suitcase behind me when I know what it contains. I can feel everyone looking at it—at me.
A young girl walks past holding hands with a man and a cold rush spreads through me, like an arctic wind starting at my feet and blowing up through the winding tunnels of my veins. As plain as the city around me, I see her pain. She tugs down her pink sleeve, but it still isn't long enough to cover the bruises beneath. Her hand is wrapped in his, but it's limp, not holding on for support. It's trapped, ensnared.
Millions of memories of Sam pelt my brain, and my free hand digs around in my pocket for the black metal bolt I always carry with me. I rub my thumb across its worn ridges as I struggle to keep the images entombed. The past I wish I could bury forever crawls out of the darkness to haunt me again: Sam and me cowering in the dark corner of the attic, the Father's breath hot on my face as he pins me to the wall, the Mother ignoring my pleas to leave Sam and take me instead as she drags him down the stairs and slams the door, later followed by tears on his face and mine when he comes back with new bruises and cuts I couldn't prevent. I'd watched him sleep every night and dreaded the next week, the next day, the next hour, when it would begin all over again.
I force a choked breath in silent agony. The memories are too painful to touch. I skirt away from them and barricade myself in a corner of my mind, trying to pretend this little girl isn't suffering the same way my brother did.
The man with her reminds me of the Father, but the similarity isn't outward. It's like the same darkness radiates from him. I focus on the details, driving back the ache of confusing emotion with the unfaltering black-and-whiteness of logic. They look nothing alike. This man is younger, maybe forty, and his hair is dark. The Father had blond hair, like Sam and me, and his paranoia made him stay trim and in shape. This man is an overweight slob.
He stops to scratch his shoulder and she flinches when he raises his arm. Her dirty, dark hair falls across her face the way Sam's used to. She's hiding and no one else sees. She's dying and no one else notices. I battle through a wave of nausea and try to keep breathing.
I watch them walk away. Sam's small voice pleads in my head—tells me to save her.
No one will save her but you.
Like a magnet, I'm towed along in their wake and fighting the desperate need to do what I couldn't do for Sam. To stop this man before it's too late. I know I have to ignore it. I can't get involved. I must pretend I didn't see, but Sam won't let me.
She needs you.
I follow them to the edge of the park, keeping my distance. Just watching.
All I can do is watch—at least, for now.
"You give up too easy." A deep, warm voice speaks from behind me and I whirl to face him. My hands fly up in the defensive posture I know too well.
"Whoa, slow down." He takes two steps back and stares at me until I drop my arms to my sides. "Sorry. I just didn't want you to leave. You're"—he glances down at his phone—"Piper, right?"
"Yeah." I pivot to one side, keeping him in full view, but glance toward the back of the little girl disappearing from sight. The guilty feeling that I'm losing her is almost as strong as the surge of relief that she's gone. No longer my responsibility.
No one else will save her.
I suppress a shudder and ignore Sam's words. Focusing on drawing a single deep breath, I release the bolt and draw my hand out of my pocket, fix my attention on the guy in front of me. It didn't take me more than a few days after I ran away to learn that noticing the details keeps me alive—both in and out of the attic. This situation is no different.
Cameron is tall with broad shoulders and chin-length brown hair. Olive skin, nose slightly broader than it should be. His jeans and red short-sleeved shirt fit him well but don't look new. He's confident, poised, and calm.
His stance tells me that he can more than hold his own in a fight, but that's not what I need help with. A genius is what I need, a criminal wizard. The hazel eyes returning my gaze are inspecting me as well. I can't deny the intelligence there. He might be smart, but he's too young. Not what I'm looking for.
"Thank you for coming, Cameron, but it's not going to work out." I turn and walk away, my suitcase wheels clicking rapidly on each crack in the sidewalk. Click, click, click, click—the rapid pulse of a city that seems as alive as the people that reside here. Each part of Philly is different. One section is a cozy tree-lined neighborhood, the next a bustling center of business. It makes me feel safe, like death can't follow me here. Even though deep inside I have no doubt death can follow me anywhere.
A second later he's walking beside me, his long legs easily matching my fastest pace. "Call me Cam."
"Fine, Cam." I don't miss a step even though the name is a little too close to my brother's for my comfort. "It's still not going to work out."
He glances at my luggage. "Looks like you gave up on me before we met. Either that or you're the youngest flight attendant I've ever seen. You have a flight to catch or something?"
"No. I just think we're done here." I shift my suitcase to my other side so I can be between him and it. Any future I might build depends on keeping it safe.
"And can I ask why?"
"You're too young."
He laughs, but it sputters like a dying car when he sees I'm serious. Then he lifts an eyebrow. "When you're the best, age doesn't matter. Besides, how old are you? Fifteen?"
"Seventeen." I don't admit that I'm not entirely certain. Time was so hard to track in the attic. And even before I'd been stuck in there when I was six, one of our neighbors—an old woman whose name I wish I could remember—was the only person who'd ever wished me a happy birthday. There is very little I can remember from the time before the Father. It wasn't good, but it was better. The pain was still there, it was just different. Exchanging hunger pains for bruises and scars wasn't my idea of an upgrade. Six years with the Mother and her addictions, then ten years with the Father and his.
"Then we're even. Not a good enough reason."
I stop and face Cam. A million instincts tell me to keep walking and ignore him. He'll give up eventually, but something about him makes me reluctant to leave. "Because you were late."
"I was here before you were."
"No." An image of every person who was in my section of the park when I arrived flashes through my head. "You weren't."
"May I?" He grins wide and then steps carefully behind me. Raising an arm, he indicates a small break in one of the hedges on the other side of the statue. It would be nearly impossible to see from where I'd been waiting, but from that spot he could see this entire section of the park. I release my breath. Very smart.
"Fine." I turn around to face him and immediately take a step back. The smell of soap, mint, and something warm and woodsy overwhelms me—too close, way too close.
"So, am I rehired?" He leans forward and grins wide.
"To be that, you would've had to be hired to begin with."
"Then why are we meeting?"
Lifting the suitcase, I walk to a nearby tree and sit on the grass. When he sits down, he's again too close.
I squirm for a moment before scooting a little farther away from him. The guy has no sense of personal space. "This is the interview," I say.
He looks down at the now slightly larger gap between us and I'm surprised by how irritated I am when the corner of his mouth twitches. "Okay. An interview then. Shouldn't you ask me some questions?"
"What's your fee?" I toy with a single blade of grass by my knee that is longer than the others around it.
"Straight to money. You don't mess around, do you?"
"No, I don't." I meet his eyes. "And if you do—"
"I get it, I get it." He raises his hands and gives me an easy smile. "You're extremely strict and serious. I can handle it."
His sarcasm comes through loud and clear. Somehow he thinks he's in control of this situation, this conversation. I don't like it. He seems nice enough, but I don't know what to do with "nice." All I need is someone who will get the job done and then leave me alone. I only met him two minutes ago and already Cam doesn't strike me as that kind of guy.
"This isn't a joke to me." Brushing the grass off my hands, I shift my weight to my feet and begin to stand when he grabs my forearm. Panic and adrenaline slam through my system and I can't breathe. I can't see him anymore. He's a shadow, a remnant of the Father. With one move, I twist my wrist, jerk it back, and break his grip. He shouldn't touch me. He has no idea what I'm capable of. Gasps of air escape my chest. I see Cam's eyes widen as fear and anger clash inside me, but his words cool them both immediately.
"Okay, slow down and breathe ..." His voice brings clarity and eases my panic slightly. It's strong and firm like the Father's, a man's voice, but without threat or malice. "I understand. You want a new identity. That's what I can provide." Cam's tone is low and steady. He raises his hands in surrender and leans back a few inches. His gaze holds mine, and any trace of humor is gone. "I'll give you a different past and you can turn it into any future you want. I'll help you live under the radar—to live invisibly. I'm the best. My fee is seven thousand and I guarantee it's worth every cent."
His confidence sets me at ease. I relax back onto the grass and stare at the park around me. Like so many times since I escaped, I feel like someone is watching me. But it's not possible. Even if he survived, the Father couldn't have followed me—no, I have to ignore the feeling and instead focus on what I can control, on the decisions I have to make ... on Cam.
Three different sources told me he was the clear choice and the only one to go to. That Cam was my best option. I'd only waited this long to contact him because I don't like taking the obvious path. It makes me feel predictable and vulnerable. But his connections and hacking skills are supposedly unmatched.
Plucking the extra-long grass blade from the ground, I run it across the back of my hand. He was here first, watching me and waiting. He seems to pick up on cues that I don't even realize I'm giving him. I'm beginning to see why he, even at his age, is the first name they gave me. Without looking his way, I give him my answer. "Fine. Meet me here tomorrow morning at ten. We start with a new identity, then an apartment. My hotel sucks."
It's getting dark. The nearby walkway lights up as the power to all the streetlamps comes on at once. The city prepares to fight off even the coming night. The light casts a strange glow in Cam's eyes as I get to my feet.
"Wait," he says.
"What?" I stare down at him, already impatient to leave. I don't like holding still for too long. Stillness reminds me of the attic. Unsurprisingly, I'm not a huge fan of small spaces either.
Cam sits forward and wraps one long arm around his knee. "I have questions for you."
"No? What do you mean?" His expression is incredulous, but I'm not going down this road. The sooner he understands that, the better.
"Did the meaning of the word 'no' change recently?" I keep my voice light as I rub my hands together, the chill of the evening coming faster than I expected.
"You aren't going to answer any questions? An interview goes both ways, you know." His eyes are piercing. "I haven't decided yet if I'm willing to help you."
The people who'd recommended him had suggested something like this was a possibility. Apparently, in the last year, he'd become very picky about the kind of clientele he was willing to take on.
"Two questions." I nod and try not to show how tightly wound this one concession makes me. "I'll answer if I can."
"Do you have a record?" His expression is grim.
"No. Last question." That was easy. Hard to have a record when no one knew we were in the attic in the first place. I wait for him to speak.
"Is anyone after you?"
Excerpted from Cut Me Free by J. R. Johansson. Copyright © 2015 J. R. Johansson. Excerpted by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Heartbreakingly beautiful! This poetically written book will make you love, and care for the characters, and their story. I was so entirely swept away in this story of a struggle to survive, I seriously couldn't put the book down. Honestly, its been difficult to put my thoughts of this book into the right words. This is my best effort, and I know it still won't do the book justice. Readers of Johansson's Night Walker series will still be at home with Johansson's writing which is still thrilling, suspenseful and easy to fall in love with. However Night Walker fans should be aware that this is not a part of that series, and that this novel fits in very different genre, but will still keep you up at night. This is not a book that you can set aside, and breathe easy knowing that in the "real world" isn't like that. This book will make you think more about the lives of the people you know, and strangers you pass each day. Hopefully most readers will also be able to finish the book with an even deeper gratitude for the many wonderful people, and experiences in their life. For any readers which this book may be a reminder of any their own experiences, you should know that many fighting and praying for you. This beautiful novel is proof that there are caring people like J.R. Johansson who want these reminders to shared, because the more we know the more change we can make.
You simply just can’t imagine the terror Piper had to go through all throughout her life, and then to get out of that vicious cycle shows how strong she is. It’s sad that it had to come to severe extreme measure for her to escape but nevertheless she was able to do so is a feat in itself. The way the characters; both Piper and Sanda are extremely well done in this book. They’re both mistrustful of others (can’t blame them) and although they try hard to learn how to integrate with society, they do tend to stand out. (Examples such as Sanda being fearful of not seeing Piper again or Piper learning how to register Sanda to school) This is so well done by Johansson. It’s very realistic of their characters and it shows how they struggle to blend in because of their fear of standing out due to their trauma. They shy away from physical contact to the point where it causes them physical discomfort. This is well written and felt by the characters accurately. The plot itself was good as well. It just seems like wherever Piper goes horrible awful things just seem to follow. It’s serious and dark, and Piper being stalked does increase the chill factor several notches up. The idea of someone breaking into your apartment and leaving lovely goodies to freak you out is unsettling and terrifying. These moments are well written and does set the mood for the plot. There’s a moment or two where you feel so angry because of particular actions and the suffering some of the characters go through. (Yes Lily, I’m looking at you...you horrible girl you…) I’m not sure what to think of the relationship between Cam and Piper. Sure Piper has a great deal of mistrust and puts Cam at an arm length’s distance but seriously? Romance? I know he’s trying to be friendly and has a bleeding heart for those in need but I’m not sure Piper would jump in at the chance to have a romance with him. Yes, she puts him as far away from her as possible and he tries hard to approach her through different ways but I really don’t see a romance as a thing in this story. Should there even be one? Why was there one in the first place? I found it rather unnecessary considering the serious subject matter. This novel is nerve wracking, and props to Piper and Sanda for their inner strength. It was a good read. Not a light hearted one, but one worth the read nevertheless.
Who do you think you are running around leaving scars your goiin to catch a cold from the ice indide your soul who dyou think you are
The book Cut Me Free by J. R. Johansson, is 305 pages long. The publish date is 1/27/15. The genre of this book is a realistic fiction novel. It is set in Philadelphia. This story is about a young girl who was abused her entire life. She escapes and changes her identity to an eighteen year old girl named Charlotte. Someone from her past comes back to haunt her. This story is about the obstacles a struggles she faces to become a hero.
I was not a fan at all of this book! The writing in it felt poorly done, as if the writer had no idea what it was like to suffer from abuse at all, with a completely unrealistic main character. I could not "buy" who the main character was. It was very unbelievable for a teenage girl to act and live like this, and it really kept pulling me out of it. I also hated the way that the romance came about. I called it from the beginning, but it was still awful. I was so excited to read this book, and I didn't enjoy much about it. Sad.
I will probaly not get to any part of this book because it is not free but ut sounds like a really good book to read and i probaly will not get it for another rean because my mom says i have enough books on my nook already.
Creepy. Heart-pounding. Chilling. Dark. Meaningful. Important. Amazing. Book-hangover-inducing. I absolutely loved Cut Me Free. I loved reading Piper's story. It was very dark and chilling, but meaningful as well. The moment I first saw this book, I just knew it was my kind of read. From the cover to the description to the subject matter and genre, it was my type of read. I am so glad to say that it met my expectations! Some of the subjects were trafficking and abuse/torture, which made the book very dark. The scariness came from the situations Piper and the other characters were in and the sick actions of the characters that abused and hurt them. The characters seemed to react to the subjects well. They were strong characters that saw some character growth. Piper ran from her past less and started to face the situation she was in head on. She began to trust people. She did well with protecting them, too. I loved Sanda! She was strong, yet she was still vulnerable. She was still young, made the book all the more dark. I also loved her and Piper's relationship. They bonded quickly and they seemed to build each other up. They both became stronger by helping each other. There were some great themes. There were focuses on strength and trust. There was also becoming comfortable with your past. The one area I thought could've used more development was the romance. I immediately sensed Cam and Piper's chemistry and started rooting for them. I liked them together--I liked how Cam wouldn't give up on her and how Piper slowly started to trust him. It still didn't seem as well developed as it should have been. They fell for each other pretty quickly. Overall, Cut Me Free was a fantastic, dark novel. I'll definitely be reading more of the author's books! Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars *I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
Contemporary books, as of late, have taken on heavier and important topics that need to be addressed in our society. Cut Me Free is one of them and it discusses physical abuse. The main protagonist, Charlotte was physically abused since she was young by her so called mother, and then her step-father along with her mother. We're talking serious business here, as in her brother was born inside the house and was never registered.. so legally? he doesn't exist. This frightened me so much because this isn't just fiction… things like this happen in real life, where innocent kids open their eyes to this abuse and only know a life with it. My heart really ached for them all. Bottom line, I applaud Johansson for addressing this difficult yet important topic in the YA world. I personally would have really preferred such a book to not include any romance but I think Johansson covered it well. It wasn't the sappy romance, but it was slow and Charlotte first had to be able to learn to trust people other than herself, which was no easy feat. Once Charlotte ran away, you would think this is it for her, new name, new identity, new life.. unfortunately people who have gone through a traumatic experience can't stay quiet or do nothing about someone they witness going through the same.. and I appreciated Johansson adding that to the plot. It really brought more depth and the relationship between Charlotte and the girl showed us how Charlotte was with her little brother. There was a ton of emotional scenes for me to digest while reading the book. I liked the mystery but wished it was a bit more fleshed out. However I personally wasn't able to guess who the person was that kept sending her the threatening notes. I was impressed by the end and it was very realistic. Cut Me Free is a very quick read but it packs a punch. It is a book that holds an important message inside and I really wish more people would read it. It breaks my heart knowing that right now there are kids out there who are physically abused.. kids that can't seem to escape the dire situation they were forced into and I feel raising awareness and not turning a blind eye about a topic like this is important for the common population.
“Cut Me Fee” is dark, and it is the most beautiful novel I’ve ever read. Each emotion is real, true to the main character’s life and background, but even better is how raw they are. I didn’t just know what emotions Piper felt, I lived them. Jenn Johansson stunning words brought these lovable characters to life in a way that leaves me thinking about them long after I’ve closed the book. Well-written, thrilling, and not a page without suspense (whether from danger or the heart-wrenching and subtle romance), “Cut Me Free” is a novel I’ll read time and time again.
3.5 liked it a lot I wanted to read Cut Me Free because abuse and then emotional healing are issues that I love to read about. The messages are important for everyone to read, and the emotion is what I seek when reading contemporaries. I enjoyed getting to know Piper aka Charlotte. She had such a rough childhood but she managed to escape and she harbors a lot of guilt because her little brother Sam didn't make it, and she wishes that she could have done more for him. She was abused badly, leaving scars all over, and kept a secret, locked in the attic. Her Nana came to live there and she taught her so many things, but couldn't get the police to believe her because she had cancer and was on all sorts of meds. She refers to her conscious or her racing thoughts as Sam, and its not in a crazy way. I think that is her way of keeping his memory alive and she will attribute her thoughts of danger or of suggestions of what to do next or in response to his voice. She meets Cameron as she is trying to get a new identity in a new city, and you can tell right away that he is attracted to her but she is nowhere ready to be in a relationship, she can barely even stand to be touched because it causes flashback type things. She almost doesn't start working with him because he is so young and he asks a lot of questions, but he is the best. Cameron helps her get settled, new id, an apartment and even a job. He keeps showing up and trying to help her, but Charlotte is one tough and stubborn gal. But she kinda is rightly so because of the way she grew up. She sees a little girl that is being abused and she steps in and rescues her. She brings her home with her because she is illegal, and apparently a victim of sex trafficking. The poor girl has scars and fresh wounds and Charlotte can't just stand back and do nothing. But I will say while its brave and I can understand why she never wanted to get the cops involved, it is also sad for me that her parents might never know what happened to her, and if she needed adults in her life no matter how much Charlotte cares for her. But its just a story so I will try to suspend belief where that is concerned. When Charlotte starts getting threats it goes more into mystery mode, and honestly I skimmed over a lot of that. I figured who it was pretty easily and I am not usually that person. But I didn't keep reading for the mystery, but for the character development of Charlotte, to see Sanda get to experience things like going to school, and laughing and being carefree, and to see if the romance with Cam and Charlotte would ever go anywhere. It was a pretty quick read, and it wrapped up to my satisfaction, but not without testing and putting more on the character's shoulders. But I like the hope of the end, that things might just be okay for them and seeing them begin to get themselves together and figuring out how to heal and live the best life they can have. Bottom Line: Unique twist on the escaped abused child.
I cant buy this book but you guys say its cool so ok