Tag Archives: suicide

Suicide Notes from Beautiful Girls

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Ok, December is killing me. I have had tons of time to read because I’ve been sitting in hockey rinks all month waiting for tournaments and practices to finish, but have had no time to post reviews!  Hopefully, January will be a good catch-up month…

June’s former best friend Delia lives a troubled life.  June has always known that the girl was unhappy with her stepfather’s presence, that she abused various substances (alcohol being the least), she hopped from relationship to relationship, and she was a very good liar. But that night June, Delia, and Ryan (June’s boyfriend) hung out ended in trouble, and the two inseparable friends didn’t speak again. A year and a half later, she sees Delia’s name on her phone but doesn’t answer.  Two days later, she learns of the teen’s suicide.

June may not know Delia anymore, she may not have spoken to her in well over a year, but she knows one thing. Delia would never kill herself. And certainly not in the way her death happened. It had to be murder. And that one certainty drags her down into a web of deceit and danger.

This is the story of an all-consuming friendship gone wrong. It is a fire that burned itself out, as was inevitable. Two girls from equally broken homes who look for family in each other.

I found June to be a bit weak, unsure of her own mind and own decisions, easily led. She lacked common sense. Her characterization was a bit off. 15 years old, she is quiet, shy and likes to move under the radar. She does her work in school and has a “safe” boyfriend, one that is nice to everyone. But when she starts to investigate Delia’s murder, she decides to infiltrate a drug lord’s party and search for information. Look, I’m not exactly the meek and mild type, and I sure as hell wouldn’t do that, as a teen or at my age now.

Delia, on the other hand, is the type of character that I am drawn to, even as I dislike her. She has a dark side. Oh boy, she does have a dark side. She is self-absorbed, manipulative, and domineering. As we learn more about her during June’s investigation, she appears to be sociopathic. Coming from a tough home life, she latched on to June and was the dominant player in their friendship. She demanded complete attention and loyalty, even as she slipped away without June’s knowledge for other pursuits.

The other characters worked as good foils for Delia and June, but I could never really get a solid feeling about any of them.  Each one had secrets and all seemed equally inconsistent. June’s boyfriend Ryan was central to the mystery, and at first seemed beyond reproach. But then questions arose. And his version of the truth does not always add up.

The plot of the story moved around, and I found myself slightly anxious while reading. I wanted to find out what happened, and did not want it to be true. Suicide vs murder is not a new idea, and I’m not sure how original the ideas are in this reiteration. Not all questions were answered or resolved, and while the behaviour of some of the characters made sense, others’ never seemed to fully add up. Was Ryan good or bad? What about Jeremiah? Had Delia been in love with June, or just liked the control she had over her?

I can’t decide whether I loved or hated the ending. I am someone who likes to know how everything is resolved when I read the last page. I want to know what happens. Don’t leave me hanging! But no matter what, I did not see that coming.  Maybe, looking back, it should have been obvious, and it probably will be to some readers.

As with the ending, I don’t know whether I liked the novel or not. It was hard to read but impossible to put down. There were inconsistencies and questions never answered. There are a lot of mature themes and scenes and is best read by the mature YA reader.

Suicide Notes from Beautiful Girls was published July 7th, 2015 by Simon Pulse.

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Death, Dickinson, and the Demented Life of Frenchie Garcia

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18-year-old Francesa “Frenchie” Garcia has been in love with Andy Cooper since the 9th grade. But no one knows about it, least of all Andy. When he finally pays attention to her, they spend the night having an adventure and talking about life. And then he goes home and kills himself. And Frenchie blames herself. Now she needs to face all the changes in her life, from the loss of Andy to the loss of a best friend and the loss of her carefully planned future.

To help her cope, she spends time in the cemetery by her house, watching funerals, thinking about the lives of those who have died, and talking to the ghost of Emily Dickenson, who is buried in a plot there. Not the Emily Dickinson, but a suitable substitute with the same name who can offer the same advice the poet would.

I went into this book completely blind. I have never read anything by the author before and randomly picked this book (gorgeous cover!) off a list for Latinx Heritage Month, posted by Naz at Read Diverse Books.  He has great recommendations, in-depth reviews, and tirelessly promotes diversity in literature.

Well, Jenny Torres Sanchez gets it right. She somehow manages to capture the anger and confusion and the weight of grief faced by someone dealing with the unexpected death of a loved one. It is a beautiful story of an artistic, unique individual who is fighting an enveloping darkness, unsure if she even wants to find the light again.

Frenchie Garcia is depressed and lonely and dealing with it badly. Honestly, I didn’t really like her in the beginning. I sympathized with her, I found her authentic and witty, but there was part of me that wanted to shake her and yell “dealing with death isn’t an excuse for being a bitch to everyone!”  But of course it is. And I think just about everyone understands that – when they know the root of the bitchiness. The problem is that Frenchie didn’t tell anyone she was depressed and hurting, she just became more and more a loner, and more and more sarcastic and a bit nasty to her friends. And while I would never judge anyone’s reaction to death – we all deal in our own way – she expected her friends to understand and be there for her when they didn’t even know she needed them.

But what is wonderful and beautiful is how she manages to pull herself back into the light. She develops into a character of strength and it isn’t always obvious that it will happen. She finds a way to come to terms with Andy’s death, and she starts by retracing the steps the two of them took on the night of their adventure together and accepting that maybe he wasn’t the seeker of truth and knowledge that he, and everyone else, made him out to be. And to do that, she needs someone to be her sidekick as she was Andy’s that night.

Enter Colin. Colin is lovely. Not that we get to see that part of him at first. But he is amused by Frenchie and attracted to her wit, rather than turned off by her harshness. From an outsider’s perspective, he can see that she is dealing with pain, whereas her friends perceive her behaviour as petty jealousy. (Which it is, don’t get me wrong. But we’ve all had a Joel in our lives, the one who dumps you as a friend as soon as he has a girlfriend. And then boomerangs back when she dumps him. Only to do it all over again with the next one…)

Joel and Robyn are the friends that deal with Frenchie as best they can all the while trying to move on with their own lives. And Lily is the girlfriend we all love to hate; beautiful, talented, sweet, and taking away Frenchie’s best friend without remorse or realization.

Frenchie’s parents are present in her life in a way that isn’t often portrayed in YA. Even though I don’t think we ever even learn their names, they are not absentee, she has boundaries and love, even when she thinks they don’t understand her. Like the other characters, they are authentic and powerful in their own way.

This is a lovely novel that deals with incredibly sensitive and heavy subject matter. Sanchez doesn’t dumb it down for her readers, not does she over-dramatize it. She treats suicide and grief and depression with respect and sensitivity, and this book will have you at turns angry and hopeful and terrified and ecstatic as  you tear through the pages. I loved it.

Death, Dickinson, and the Demented Life of Frenchie Garcia was published May 28th, 2013 by Running Press Kids.

Jerkbait

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Back to my LGBT reading list for this one.

Tristan and Robbie are 18-year-old identical twins. Physically, it is impossible to tell them apart. But the resemblance stops there. They are not close, they have never gotten along. Tristan loves the theatre, has a natural talent for dance and singing, and dreams of performing on Broadway.  Robbie is slated to go in a top round for the NHL draft this year. A gifted centre, he dreams of nothing but the playing for New Jersey Devils. He is their parents’ hope for the future. Oh. Another difference? One twin is gay, one straight.

One night, Robbie tries to kill himself. The pressure of his draft year, along with the secrets he keeps are too much for him to handle. Instead of getting him help, the twins’ parents decide to hide the truth.  They don’t want his draft value dropping.  So Tristan becomes his brother’s keeper, and the two boys get to know each other for the first time in their lives.

Tristan has lived his life in Robbie’s shadow. Although a good hockey player himself, he is not a star and has never dreamed of being one. But as he gets to finally know Robbie, he sees beneath the cocky exterior to the terrified boy who knows that if his secret gets out, his dream could be over. At the same time, Robbie discovers that his love for Tristan is more powerful than his fear.

This book tackles a topic that is so relevant and important today, and I was excited to read it, hoping to yell from the rooftops “READ THIS!” after. I hate to be negative when such a story is so needed. And I still think it should be read. But to be honest, while the idea is fantastic, it falls somewhat short in the execution.

The good:

The idea, the story, the support for gay athletes. So needed.

I really love that the book is written from Tristan’s perspective.  He is the straight twin, living in his brother’s shadow, raised in a hockey family to believe that homosexuality has no place in sport.  You can’t be gay and play hockey. He has no idea his brother is gay, mainly because he doesn’t pay attention. Robbie tries to tell him, several times, but Tristan doesn’t want to see. He is too comfortable in his envy and self-pity. But when he finally does see it, he starts to understand not only Robbie’s pain and but also his bravery.

Author Mia Siegert illustrates clearly the psychological trauma that a young gay athlete can go through. Actually, that any gay teen can face, athlete or not. She portrays the bullying at the hands of friends and teammates incredibly well, and the varied behaviours – everything from religious conservatism to harassment to physical brutality to love and support – ring authentic and true.

All the teens are complex, relatable, and fantastically developed characters. The friendships and rivalries and likes and dislikes and bitchy behavior and unquestioning affection brought me straight back to the halls of my high school. It seems that not much changes. Tristan’s speech to the hockey team was completely believable and showed so much pride and support for his brother.

The bad:

The execution. The story seems forced in places, as if trying too hard to make a point.

The parents. And I don’t mean they’re bad because they are homophobic and racist (that’s just obvious). They are flat, one-dimensional, overly-exaggerated characters of hockey parents, controlling everything the boys did, not wanting anyone to know about the suicide attempts, thinking only of how such attempts could affect Robbie’s future, never that he might not have one if he succeeded.

It’s 2016, and these boys are 18 years old.  The computer stuff made no sense at all. The chat rooms and messaging seemed out of date. My kids are way younger, and know all about internet safety and not chatting with strangers and DEFINITELY not meeting anyone in person that you have met online. This is not new information. Also, for parents who control EVERYTHING, this is where they decide to respect privacy and not interfere?

I don’t want to spoil it, so will just say that I know Robbie is lonely, and I know we all do stupid things when we are in pain, but the big scene near the end of the story just does not make sense. His behaviour, given his lifelong dream, is not in character at all.

Add the twin telepathy to that. We’ve all heard the stories how twins miles apart can feel when something is wrong with the other, and I have no trouble believing that. But I don’t think that after 18 years of ignoring each other, two people who have never shared so much as a twinge of recognition all of a sudden start having conversations with each other in their heads. I assume Siegert is trying to show how close they became once they started to really know each other, but to me it made believable characters less so.

I think Siegert has an incredible idea in this story. So with all the negative, I still say “READ THIS.”  The good messages in it outweigh the bad aspects, and they are important and timely and can start a much needed conversation.

The organization You Can Play, support for gay athletes, is referenced and promoted at the end.

Jerkbait was published May 10th, 2016 by Jolly Fish Press.

Every Last Word

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There have been a lot of books written lately dealing with teen mental illness, some successfully, some not so much. They are tough to read, and tough to review.  This one in particular was  difficult – although I really loved it, it left me with questions.

Samantha McAllister is a junior in high school, and has been diagnosed with Purely-Obsessional OCD; she can’t turn off her brain without the help of meds and dark thoughts can overwhelm her.  Her crushes on various boys are not always based in reality. Sleep can be nearly impossible and the number three has far too much influence on her daily activities.

She has been best friends since junior kindergarten with the same group of girls – the Crazy Eights (now down to five). They are the popular girls, they set the trends for make-up and clothes, are on every social committee, are the ones everyone else wants to be.  Or so Samantha thinks.

In reality, she is no longer comfortable around the group, and she feels like the fifth wheel. The petty jealousies, the social structure and watching every word she says and every outfit she chooses is tiring. She is ready to move on, but is afraid to leave the safety of familiarity, afraid to make such a change.

Then she meets Caroline, who helps her find her own voice.  Sam is introduced to Poet’s Corner, and accepted into a group of individuals who all have their own ideas and quirks, who all are ready to like her for her. She competes at an elite level in swimming, and finds strength in the pool and in her writing. Slowly, she starts to feel “normal,” and occasionally leaves behind some of her regular behaviours.

I did NOT see the twist coming at the end.

Tamara Ireland Stone writes fabulous characters.  Sam, AJ and Caroline were so alive, and the various friends and frenemies were absolutely believable. Stone evokes emotion without effort throughout; the story made me angry, made me hold my breath, cringe, laugh and cry.

Here is my issue with the story: I cannot judge how successful it is in portraying OCD accurately. To me, Sam’s challenges seemed a bit romanticized, if I can use that word. Is it really likely that a teenage girl was able to hide her OCD from the friends she had hung out with almost daily since kindergarten? When she was diagnosed so young?

That said, it feels like an honest attempt, and I think was done respectfully. Any effort to shine a light on and bring understanding to teen mental illness should be applauded.

Given the subject matter, the novel is appropriate for age 12 and up.

Every Last Word is published by Hyperion.

More Happy Than Not

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In honour of Pride Week, a fellow blogger posted a list of her favourite LGBT YA books.  I had read a few of them, but not More Happy Than Not.  I am so glad I saw it on her list, because this story broke my heart, and stayed with me long after I had finished the final page.

Aaron is 16 years old, living in a one bedroom apartment in the Bronx projects with his mother and older brother.  He deals with a life of poverty, and alternates between anger and sadness at the loss of his father, who had taken his own life just months before the story begins.  Aaron’s girlfriend, Genevieve, gets him through the pain of his father’s death and his own suicide attempt. But he is living a lie. He just doesn’t know the extent of it. Yet.

The Leteo Corporation promises a fix for those whose memories are too much. Taking its name from the Lethe, the Underworld river that removes the memories of those that immerse in it, Leteo promises hope and new life without guilt, fear or pain.

But Leteo offers another hope: if you are young and gay, and living in a neighbourhood where that fact can get you at best severely beaten, and at worst killed, Leteo can erase your memories and feelings, and you will believe you are straight.

Central to the story is Aaron finding himself and finding happiness being himself. Central is the theme that none of us chooses who we are, but must one day recognize what the universe hands us. Central is acceptance and diversity and the right to live the your life.

Author Adam Silvera writes amazing characters. Aaron’s mother is an incredible portrayal of selfless love, while his brother, Eric, keeps the boy’s secrets to protect him, although Aaron doesn’t realize it. The friends, boys Aaron had grown up with so hang out with by default, are so real. Thomas and Genevieve will make you cry.

I was laughing through tears by the final chapters.  I fell in love with Aaron.  How could anyone not?  I wanted Aaron to accept himself and be happy, and wished with all my heart that he would find that happiness with the boy who made him realize he had the right to be himself.

This novel is diverse, complex, hopeful and terribly sad. It is a love story with an impossible outcome.

Appropriate for teens; there is violence and sex, although the descriptions are vague and not graphic. Say 14 and up, to be safe.

More Happy Than Not is published by Soho Teen.

Reconstructing Amelia

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This was an interesting book to read.  And challenging to review.  Because on one hand, I want to yell from the rooftops “WOW!!  Read this, now!”  On the other hand, I think, “Eh. It’s ok…”  Why the dichotomy?  It is a good story. But is it great?

Kate is a single mom in New York City, a partner in a law firm, busy, stressed, happy to have an intelligent, independent daughter in Amelia, who understands her schedule.   Amelia attends an exclusive private school, Grace Hall, and dreams of going to Princeton to be a writer.  She’s a lock for it.

Until she is caught cheating on an English paper, and suspended.  Until she jumps from the roof of the school, in despair.

And a month later, after returning to work, unable to deal with the loneliness of her empty brownstone, Kate receives an anonymous text:  She didn’t jump

What follows is the story of an anguished mother who begins to feel like she didn’t know her own daughter.  She reads Amelia’s texts and Facebook posts and reconstructs her life, sifting through emails, texts, and social media to get to the truth about the last days of her life.

Kimberly McCreight’s debut novel is interesting. The idea behind the book is fantastic; the story is developed well, and I love the social media posts and texts that Kate follows as she deciphers Amelia’s last days. It begins with a great punch. The gossip blog gRaCeFULLY sets the mood for the entire novel with a nasty, celebrity-magazine tone.

This is another story in alternating voices, and alternating times, giving both the girl and her mother a chance to live the same experiences.  Amelia is in the present, immersed in experiences first hand, unable to see the forest for the trees.  Kate sees the same experiences with wisdom of age and hindsight.  It is a story of secrets, of love, of discovery and of betrayal, of bullies, and of friends you thought you knew.

In the end, it is about how well a mother ever really knows her daughter.

My issue with the novel was McCreight did not let us draw our own conclusions. She is a victim of her own ideas, and a bit unsure about conveying them. She can’t let the reader follow the story and make his or her own assumptions about personalities or relationships.  She leads the reader by the hand through everything, and the story loses spontaneity.

The characters are not totally believable, but again, that is McCreight’s inexperience as a writer showing through.  The bones of a fantastic book are all there.

So read this book.  The story will leave you guessing.  Enjoy it for the excellent ideas and twists and turns.  Decipher the texts and try to guess the players involved.  They all come as a surprise.

Appropriate for all teens.

Reconstructing Amelia is published by Harper Perennial.

More Than This

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This one will play with your head a bit; Patrick Ness is a master storyteller. In More Than This, he creates a maze,  shoves your brain in, and runs away, leaving you to try and find your way through it.  (I also imagine him cackling evilly as he runs, but that’s pure conjecture on my part. I’m sure he is a very nice man.)

16 year old Seth Wearing died.  More specifically, he drowned, purposefully, sadly, all alone.  His parent blamed him for the tragedy that stole his younger brother from them when Seth was 8, from which none of them ever recovered.  They moved halfway around the world to escape the sadness, and when he finally found happiness again, it was brutally yanked away.  So, one day, he went swimming, fully clothed, in the icy winter Pacific.  And he died.

And woke up in Hell.  Naked.  But Hell looked a lot like the town he grew up in England, before Owen was abducted.  Except without the people.  So, Hell is a deserted small town, next to a deserted prison, in rural England.  With scorched earth and rotted food, no electricity, and a lot of overgrown weeds and ash and dust.  So is he dead?  Or dreaming? Or…?

First, the characters are great in this story.  Seth, Gudmund, Regine, Tomasz, mum and dad – all come alive in a few vivid strokes of Ness’s pen.  His writing is incredible, and the pace of the book is perfect.  I wanted to know what happened next, but did not want the book to end.  It was an epic dilemma; do I spend the day reading, forgo meals and sleep and ignore those piles of laundry and dishes, or do I put down the book, savour the anticipation of the story, and fulfill my responsibilities…?  Guess what won.

The ending delievers an absolute brainpunch.  Ness constantly takes what you think you know and turns it upside down and sideways.  But at no time is the book confusing, it just keeps you on your toes and has you re-reading and questioning what you just read, what you think you know.

Appropriate for teens, and for moms and dads who want to mess with their kids’ heads. Read it. You will believe that there has to be more than this.

More Than This is published by Candlewick Press.