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#MHYALit: Those Left Behind, discussing the ways that the mental health struggles of others affect teens, a guest post by Katherine Fleet

thesecretsoflettinggoWhen we talk about mental health and teens, we’re not just talking about teens’ personal struggles with mental health because there are other ways that mental health issues can affect a teen, like loving someone who struggles with mental health issues. The mental health struggles of those we love and care about also affect us in very profound ways. When I lay in bed last summer waiting for my medication to help me climb out of the dark abyss of depression, it affected my children in very profound ways. Today, we’re talking about a book that asks us to look at the various ways the mental health struggles of those we love can impact us.

Hi! I’m Katherine Fleet, the debut author of the YA contemporary, The Secret to Letting Go. It’s a story about Clover, a homeless and eccentric girl who shows up in the small Gulf-coast town of Canna Point. She’s keeping secrets and has clearly survived something traumatic. She meets Daniel, a boy who on the surface has everything going for him – a loving and supportive family, good friends, a scholarship to the college of his dreams in the fall, and a full summer ahead. What she can’t see is that he’s also broken inside, still feeling guilt and regret over the suicide of his girlfriend.

As Clover and Daniel spend one summer together, constantly confronted by their regrets and prior mistakes, they slowly discover what it means to truly let go of the past and learn to live and love again.

The inspiration for both of their stories came from things I’d read about or seen around me. Clover is dealing with the aftermath of trauma and her father’s mental illness. From a purely literary perspective, these topics create the opportunity to craft moving, emotionally deep scenes, and characters with conflict and struggle. From a personal perspective, I’m drawn to stories of survival, especially when people triumph in the face of their struggles. Maybe I’ve always wondered what kind of person I’d be if put to the test – would I break or become stronger?

The inspiration for Daniel’s story came from a family I knew. The teenage son lost his girlfriend to suicide and really struggled after. I tried to put myself in his shoes. I tried to imagine what his grief must have been like. As a teenager, you feel everything so intensely – love, anger, sadness. Maybe it’s hormones or just the newness of everything, but relationships are so intense. You spend every spare moment trying to connect with the other person – marathon phone conversations and just being together. You emotionally invest with the fearlessness of youth – you’re all in. To lose that person to suicide must be devastating – wondering why you didn’t know, wondering if it was something you said or did, wondering if you could have stopped it? In reality, if you’d stayed a couple you might have grown apart, fallen out of love, and broken up, but once that other person is gone, the natural path of that relationship is no longer possible. You’re stuck in that moment of intense emotional connection – loving and grieving for that person. This is the story I tried to capture with Daniel.

A major theme in my book is the fallout of trauma and mental health issues for those left behind, those left to gradually rebuild their lives. There are many other books that also do a wonderful job at this. I’ve just finished reading Gayle Forman’s I Was Here, which showed the emotional and gritty aftermath of suicide. I also loved Jay Asher’s Thirteen Reasons Why, which also dealt with suicide. It showed how everyone’s actions have consequences – both good and bad – and that we never know what type of influence we might have in someone else’s life. I also loved Hate List by Jennifer Brown, which addressed the aftermath of a school shooting. It is told from the perspective of the shooter’s girlfriend, who must come to grips with the role she may have played in influencing her boyfriend’s actions. It is told in such a raw and emotional way. There are so many more great books that deal with these issues, but these are a few that have stuck with me.

If someone asked me if I deliberately tackled the topics of suicide, trauma and mental illness in my novel in order to pass on messages or impart knowledge to my readers on these topics, the answer would be no. I wrote about these characters because they came to me. Their story called to me. At some level, I personally connected with their thoughts, experiences and emotions. I suspect many other authors write for similar reasons. My hope is that I’ve written their story well enough that readers will also connect with Daniel and Clover in their own way, forming their own relationships and drawing their own meanings. If that happens, I’ll have done my job as a writer.

Meet Katherine Fleet

Originally from Newfoundland, Canada, Katherine Fleet moved with her family to the Caribbean island of Curaçao in 2007. The slower pace of island life gave her time to pursue a long-time goal – becoming an author. When she’s not writing, she spends her time baking, chauffeuring her three amazing, talented kids around, and having sun-filled adventures with her wonderful friends. She is a member of RWA™ and several of its chapters. She also loves NaNoWriMo and is an active supporter of the associated Young Writers Program. She is represented by super-agent Carrie Pestritto of Prospect Agency. The Secret to Letting Go is her debut novel.

About THE SECRET OF LETTING GO

One summer can change everything…

Haunted with guilt after his girlfriend’s death, Daniel Hudson has no interest in committing to anyone. At the end of the summer, he’ll be leaving Florida for a new start in college. If only he could avoid the mysterious new girl in town, who seems every bit as naive and eccentric as she looks. Trouble is, she’s hard to ignore, with her beautiful piercing eyes, pitiful-looking dog, and unsettling tendency of finding trouble.

Clover Scott lived her whole life off the grid and arrives on the Gulf coast in search of her grandparents. She never expected to nearly drown, or get caught in a hurricane, or fall in love with the boy who rescues her. Now, she has a chance to rewrite her life’s story, to finally fit in somewhere, but Daniel wants answers about her past. When the police start asking questions about the disappearance of her parents, she must make a choice: go to jail or confess her secrets—even if they might destroy her chance at a happily-ever-after. (Published February 2016 by Entangled Teen)

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