In thirteen slick, innovative, and gut-wrenching flashes, the young women and girls in Breaking Points, the debut chapbook from Chelsea Stickle, hit the walls around them—walls constructed by family, friends, significant others, and insidious cultural perils. “Stranger danger doesn’t disappear when you start wearing a push-up bra,” notes one of Stickle’s pre-teen narrators when confronted by a leering threat that will forever sever her path from that of her best friend. In “How to Make Stock with Thanksgiving Leftovers,” a queer young woman takes us through a wry recipe for boiling turkey stock and raging against small-minded relatives and the traumas they inflict.
Written in the style of a classic glossy magazine personality quiz, “How Mature Are You?: A Quiz” provides whip-smart A, B, C responses to situations such as: “When that bitch in your book club calls you a space cadet” then furnishes the reader with irreverent, pull-no-punches results. This is a collection as darkly humorous as it is heartbreaking and disquieting. Within Stickle’s thirteen walled worlds, some will break, some adapt, and others soar. Pushed to the breaking point, none escape unscathed.
Chelsea Stickle demonstrates her range and mastery of the short form in this tightly-woven debut collection. These stories portray young girls and women on the edge, where vulnerability courts disaster, and a need to be seen is eclipsed by a need to survive. A clear-eyed, riveting, emotionally honest work, Breaking Points is not to be missed.
—Kathy Fish, author of Wild Life: Collected Works
Each story in Breaking Points is packed with tension and heart, but also invention. Stories here are told in a variety of ways—traditional narrative as well as flow charts, lists, and quizzes. But no matter the form, each story contains unforgettable characters—a mother pulling out her daughter’s teeth, a girl running from a pack of arcade boys. We are in the terror of a moment. We are simultaneously watching the story unfold and relating to it. Each story creates a world so gripping and immersive, you might have to remind yourself to breathe. Breaking Points is a brilliant debut from a writer we will be hearing from for years to come.
—Francine Witte, author of Dressed All Wrong for This and The Way of the Wind
Sharp and precise as an Exacto blade, Chelsea Stickle is a sorceress of form. Her stories take shape as recipes, catalogs, flow charts, personality quizzes. Even more impressive than her virtuoso forms is what Stickle reveals. In story after story, young women observe the dangers around them (snipers, toxic friends, undermining relatives, parents who are cruel, absent, clueless, or all three at once), and mobilize all their skills to survive. Stickle’s stories are witty, sad, excruciating marvels; like dropped mics or hand grenades, they detonate.
—Kim Magowan, author of Undoing and The Light Source
FROM “COMING OF AGE”
It’s weird seeing her cut off at the waist in a glass box. A mannequin in an upright coffin disguised as an arcade game is always going to be strange, even if there is a crystal ball by her hand. It costs one dollar to hear my fortune. I never play.
We’re not even supposed to be in here—Christina and I, not alone anyway. My older sister Elise is supposed to be watching us, but all she wants to do is sunbathe on a beach towel until she smells like peanut butter. She tells us we can do whatever we want as long as we stay together. We lick cotton candy off our fingers or rig a dollar on some line to fish for rednecks on the pier. When we overheat we hide out in the arcade.
The arcade is one of the few places where there are only other kids, usually all boys, sometimes high schoolers. We’re not old enough to be noticed by boys yet. Elise saunters in and every eye is on her. Christina and I walk in and nobody cares, which is great. I’d be happy avoiding all that for the rest of my life.
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