This first-person narrative of a runaway girl's short stay in a residential mental health center develops her impressions, resistances, and accommodations from her admission ("I can see right away it's a nuthouse") to her release. These include reluctant interviews with the staff counselor, uncomfortable encounters with nurses, observations of other patients' erratic behavior, and efforts, finally, to communicate with a very detached roommate.

"Stevie" speaks from a place of anger and mistrust. She attempted suicide in the girl's bathroom by slicing her wrists, but regards herself as otherwise quite competent. A turning point comes for her when her silent roommate sings a song she's written which ends with the words, "Don't forget to cry." This moment of vulnerability, which also unveils surprising talent and beauty, moves Stevie from anger toward curiosity and sympathy.

She takes steps toward friendship with her roommate, and finally toward reconciliation with her mother who, she realizes, really wants her home. As she leaves, Zena really addresses her for the first time, reminding her, "Don't forget to cry."


The author, who worked in a mental health center for teenagers for a season, writes in an appended comment on the story that it is based on her observations of particular patients at that facility and was inspired by running into one of the patients some years later. The sympathies of the reader are held in strong tension by the speaker's harsh tone and sneering judgments of her fellow inmates even as she reveals by a series of offhanded remarks the depth of her own pain and confusion.

The encounters vary the emotional tone, a few providing needed comic relief, and the unfolding relationship with the roommate sounds a gentle note amid sometimes shocking glimpses of obsession, compulsion, phobias and erratic behaviors. The note of tenderness at the end is hard won and rings true. Could be a helpful story for teens who have friends on the edge or are dealing with their own mental health issues.

Primary Source

On the Edge: Stories at the Brink


Simon & Schuster

Place Published

New York




Lois Duncan

Page Count