Google+ YA Romantics: Explaining the Unexplainable: Four YA Books About Teen Suicide

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Explaining the Unexplainable: Four YA Books About Teen Suicide


First, the easiest thing to explain: why did I read four YA books dealing with suicide in a span of two weeks? I didn't intend to. I often request review books months ahead of time. Then I keep a list by release date and try to read chronologically. Many times when I pick up a book I don't remember what it's about. 

So I didn't realize until recently that at least six YA books about teen suicide will be published in January and February. How to explain that? I'm not sure, but I definitely see a huge trend toward serious issue books in 2015, something I have mixed feelings about as a reader. I enjoy books that tackle weighty and important subjects, but there's a limit to how many I want to read in a short span of time.

These are the books I read -- I wrote the mini-blurbs:


I Was Here pic name All the Bright Places All the Bright Places

I Was Here by Gayle Forman (Viking, January 27)
After her best friend's suicide, Cody goes to pack up Meg's things as a favor her parents. In doing so, she starts investigating what prompted Meg to make the choice that she did.

Playlist for the Dead by Michelle Falkoff (Harper, January 13)
After his best friend's suicide, Sam listens to a playlist of songs that Hayden left for him and tries to understand.

The Last Time We Say Goodbye by Cynthia Hand (Harper, February 10)
In the aftermath of her brother's suicide, Lex tries to put her life back together and to deliver a message for her brother.

All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven (Knopf, January 6)
When Violet, depressed over her sister's accidental death, and Finch, who's struggling with family problems and a mood disorder, meet and then are assigned to a school project, they begin a journey that will encompass friendship, love and loss.

These books definitely have similarities. Three of them are stories of characters trying to understand a suicide after the fact. One (All the Bright Places) is sort of the opposite. When something unexpected and tragic occurs, I guess it's human nature to try to understand why it happened and/or figure out how it might have been prevented. And yet, in all these books, I kept feeling that there was never going to be a simple, definitive answer to those questions.
  • Three of the books featured main characters whose friend committed suicide, while one main characters lost a sibling (another also lost a sibling, but not to suicide)
  • Three of the suicides were male, one was female
  • At least three of the characters who took their own lives had been diagnosed with a mood disorder or mental illness.
  • At least two of the authors had a personal connection to someone who committed suicide
Some of those factors reflect research on suicide in the U.S..  According to this research, while girls are more likely to attempt suicide, boys actually make up the vast majority (81%) of teen suicide deaths.  Among ethnic groups, Native American youth have the highest rate of suicide fatality and Hispanic* teens have the highest rate of attempted suicide. (You can read a post by YA author Cindy Rodriguez (whose book is featured below) on Depression in the Latina community here.) Depression and mental illnesses are a risk factor, as are drug and alcohol abuse, or having suffered a stressful life event. Exposure to the suicidal behavior of others is also thought to be a risk factor.

*I understand that the term "Hispanic" may not be the preferred one in the Latino/a community, but it is the one used by the CDC report.
If you're not up reading for reading all of these books, which one is right for you? 

--Read All the Bright Places if you want a John Green-esque story of a larger than life character, and if you want a (tragic) romance -- think Looking for Alaska. I liked the fact that most of this story takes place before the suicide rather than after.

--Read The Last Time We Say Goodbye or Playlist for the Dead if you want a bit of a ghost story feel. In Playlist, this had a bit of a magical realism feel, and in The Last Time, there was more of a psychological explanation.

--The Last Time We Say Goodbye and All the Bright Places explore sibling relationships.

-- I Was Here was the bleakest, but also the most dramatic -- at times it had the bit of a feel of a Law and Order episode. And I would have preferred this book as a friendship story, without the romance.

In case you're interested, here are two more YA upcoming books that, from their descriptions on Goodreads, seem to deal with teen suicide:


My Heart and Other Black Holes When Reason Breaks

My Heart and Other Black Holes by Jasmine Warga (Balzer + Bray, February 10)
When Reason Breaks by Cindy L. Rodriguez (Bloomsbury, February 10)


What are your thoughts about these kind of books? Have you read any of them, or are you planning to?

29 comments:

  1. I have read I Was Here and Playlist for the Dead. I liked the darkness in I Was Here, but see how it might be for older YA audiences? It's a tough subject and one that I'm glad authors are writing about.

    Kate @ Ex Libris

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I agree that I Was Here was pretty dark. And teen suicide definitely seems like a hard subject to write about. I think that's maybe why I decided I couldn't really review these in the way I usually do. I found all of them took a long time for me to process.

      Delete
  2. Oh, Jen. These all sound like strong, beautiful and emotional reads, and being a Gayle Forman fan, I know what you mean about bleak. I haven't gotten around to reading any of these yet, but I will soon enough. I need to go on a feels binge read.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I found some more emotional than others, and some bleaker than others. I think as a writer it must be hard to find balance when tackling a subject like this.

      Delete
  3. This is such a thoughtful post, Jen. I tend to avoid heavy issue books and will be staying clear of the other 5 suicide books that I didn't read. I read mostly for fun and enjoyment, and books like this though powerful, aren't usually fun for me. I also agree that suicide is not something you can explain easily, though often mental illness does play a role. The way you explained and compared these is very interesting, however. I think if I was going to read a second one it would be Hand's book.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I enjoy issue books but I have to be in the right mindset for them. I completely understand the feeling of wanting to read for enjoyment, escape, etc.

      I think you'd like Hand's -- and unlike the Unearthly series... NO triangle :)

      Delete
  4. Great post and I agree with reading some of those books I had no idea it was about suicide. I loved all the bright places, and The last time we said goodbye. Those books touched me more than those other books. I do that suicide affects many people , and I knew of someone who killed himself and he had a mental disorder. Thanks for this great post.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I agree -- I found those two the most moving as well.

      Delete
  5. I'm glad these books are out there. I have Gayle Forman's on my list and have good things about the others.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Great post. I read All The Bright Places and it was so well done. I have the Forman book on my list to read. I also have a copy of the Cynthia Hand book that I intend to read. I have to put space between these books b/c they tend to drain me emotionally. But I think Niven did a fantastic job with her book.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Not to sound weird or morbid... but I like books like this. Like This Song Will Save Your Life was so sad and depressing, but it was also freaking beautiful. I hope these are like that as opposed to just sad and depressing.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I liked TSWSYL because it ended up being hopeful and life-affirming. These books are definitely darker. But I'm with you in that I do enjoy books that are sad or tackle serious subjects.

      Delete
  8. As a reader who leans towards happier books, I tend to avoid books that deal with issues like suicide but once in a while, when a book seems like something I'd like in spite of it's intensity, pick it up and because of how selective I tend to be, I usually end up liking it. I actually don't know what it says when so many books coming out deal with suicide. Will this be one of the important topics that will lose it's importance in literature as a result of trends? I hope not!

    Lovely post, Jen! :)

    Rashika @ The Social Potato

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That's an excellent point, and I hope not. I mean, I understand that it might not be a topic that every reader wants to read about, but I'm glad the books are out there for those who want to read them.

      Delete
  9. I've read Playlist, The Last Time We Say Goodbye and My Heart and Other Black Holes and I've really enjoyed each one of them. I have All the Bright Places but I needed a break after TLTWSG so I haven't read it yet.

    For some reason I've always been drawn to the book with tough subjects, I don't know what it is about them, it seems like I connect to the characters more and I usually really enjoy them.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I thought The Last Time We Say Goodbye was very moving -- hope you enjoy it!

      Delete
  10. Great post Jen. I always tend to be apprehensive with YA books that deal with mental illness / suicide because I have gotten very offended and upset reading some books who simply treat it as a plot device or don't do their research. Also, I'm not one for extremely dark books with no silver lining (like I avoid sad movies). I do read adult books that have mental illness though, and I have been thinking to try YA ones, but didn't know which to choose! Thanks for the breakdown. I'll have to think about it. Which one do you think was the most accurate or closest to being believable? I know it's hard to say. :D

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It is hard to say, because suicide is not something that's touched my life personally. Interestingly, though, the two books that I found the most moving were those written by authors who revealed in a foreword or afterword that they'd had a personal connection to someone who committed suicide, and those were All the Bright Places and The Last Time We Say Goodbye.

      Delete
  11. I just read All the bright places and it was so incredibly good. I plan on reading I was here because I love Gayle Foreman.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It is VERY different from her other books. Look forward to seeing what you think!

      Delete
  12. I haven't read too many novels dealing with this subject, but I plan on reading some of the books you mentioned above because they make me curious.

    Andreea
    https://toallthebooksivelovedbefore.wordpress.com/

    ReplyDelete
  13. I do like issue books but finding one that treats the subject respectfully is a whole other matter. And even when they do I can only read so many in a row.

    Karen @ For What It's Worth

    ReplyDelete
  14. Quick comment to say I had a very similar experience, suddenly realizing that there were a lot of teen suicide books suddenly coming out (I wonder if winter is supposed to be a more ideal time to release them? Like around the holidays, people get sad; same with the cold and winter?). This was after I'd also listened to Forgive Me Leonard Peacock, which was an audiosync book I'd just gotten around to, and when I was angry about one of my own friend's suicide//grief hit me again. More on this later -- but I'm really glad you wrote this post.

    ReplyDelete
  15. I was thinking about these books some days ago, when I realized I have 5 books about suicide on top of my TBR pile. It's weird, though, because they are sad and touching but many readers love them, and I am one of them.
    I really want to read All The Bright Places.

    ReplyDelete
  16. Playlist for the Dead and My Heart and Other Black Holes as well as All the Bright Places (a lot of long titles!) are all on my TBR. I wonder why this trend started?

    ReplyDelete
  17. I loved this post, very sensitive and helpful. Just wanted to say that :) Thanks!

    ReplyDelete
  18. I like books that deal with real issues cause that's life. Nothing is ever perfect.

    ReplyDelete

Thanks so much for stopping by today. I hope you'll leave me a comment. I read and appreciate each and every one and try my best to reply. Leave me a link to your blog or website!

 
Blog design by Imagination Designs