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#MHYALit: Why I Think I Wrote A Book About Suicide, a guest post by Karen Fortunati

Trigger warning: details of suicide

MHYALitlogoofficfial“Hey…I’ve got some bad news,” my brother said. His voice sounded stiff and hesitant over the phone. “It’s about Lee.* She’s dead…She killed herself.”

 

My mind reeled. Wait. What? She was only thirty something. My cousin’s wife had been through some tough times but this? Suicide?  “What happened?” I asked as if her method would somehow provide an explanation I could understand.

 

Again Rick hesitated. “She…uh…carbon monoxide. In her car. In her garage. At her house.”

 

It wasn’t sinking in. This slim, attractive woman with long dark hair and huge, brown eyes. Always with the quick, sweet, shy smile. Always so pleasant when I’d talk with her once or twice a year at family gatherings. Lee. Dead. By her own poison. I couldn’t see it. Couldn’t see this lovely woman alone in her garage, prepping for death. Couldn’t imagine the pain she was in, comprehend the brutal loneliness and finality of her act.

 

The funeral was a surreal horror.  Inside the church, I studied my cousin and his parents  – their walking, grief-stunned zombie-selves. That they were still standing – actually going through the motions of greeting people, hugging, wiping tears was incomprehensible. Especially as I sat on the hard wooden pew, holding my squirming toddler son, his body warm, heart beating inside the solid weight of him.  Especially as my three-year-old daughter gripped her Disney princess books, oblivious, the church lights glinting off her silky dark hair. I kept her close to me. God, I prayed, don’t ever let me be in Lee’s mother’s shoes.

 

This wasn’t my first exposure to suicide. Years earlier, my former boss had killed himself. He was a flamboyant, pompous yet strangely lovable man who I ate lunch with maybe three times a week for almost two years. At the same pizza place eating the exact same meal every time – two slices of plain. He had gorgeous teeth, these white, perfectly shaped Chiclets that I can still see biting into the mozzarella.

 

My boss was a very public person, the head prosecutor, who while I was working for him, had been convicted of some white-collar crimes – tax evasion, fraud – I can’t even remember. What I do remember is that pending sentencing, he was placed on house arrest, forced to wear an ankle bracelet that monitored his location. He had fallen mightily in our small community and couldn’t handle the shame of going to prison. He cut off the bracelet, fled New Jersey and was ultimately located in Nevada. But before the deputies could break down the door to his $20 a night hotel room, he shot himself in the head.

 

I was staggered by his suicide and that gave rise to one of the few regrets I have in my life – that I never reached out to him after his fall from grace. There were rumors flying around then – that the investigation was ongoing and that he was under surveillance. But one day, while I was out of the office with some colleagues, we decided to drive past his house. And my boss was there, standing on his front lawn in the brilliant sunshine, doing something ridiculously innocuous like watering his plants or something. Our car slowed and he started to turn around. I slid lower in the back seat and we kept driving.

 

I’m ashamed of that. So ashamed. I desperately wish I could do it over. Get out of the car and say hello to him. Let him know…I don’t know. Let him know that it was okay. That this would pass and he’d move on, get over this. Would it have made a difference? Probably not. I was nothing to him in the scheme of things. But…maybe it would have. Maybe it would have.

 

Last weekend, I volunteered at my first Out of Darkness walk, an event organized by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. The event had a raw, stark beauty to it – a resilient community founded on despair. It was a day of transparency, an utter bullshit-free zone. One woman told me of the last conversation she had with her aunt about the existence of God. A volunteer spoke of her teen daughter’s continuing suicide ideation. Another told me that her daughter who had committed suicide was named Karen.

 

I worked at the registration table, checking off the list of participants, while across from me, volunteers handed out “honor beads” – beaded necklaces in a rainbow of bright colors that spoke of the exact nature of loss – red for a spouse or partner, purple for relative or friend, white for a child and so on. I looked up at some point and directly in front of me was a couple wearing the white beads. They appeared freshly stunned and haggard and looked around as if they had been dumped on a strange planet. That couple has stayed with me as well as the group of high school girls who crowded the registration table with their face paint and blue hair ribbons and matching tee shirts with a photograph of Abby. It was the photograph that I had a hard time pulling my eyes from – this beautiful blond hair, blue eyed young woman smiling at me. Abby. A bright and funny cheerleader who killed herself her sophomore year of high school.

 

I’ve been asked about the inspiration for The Weight of Zero. I think it comes down to this, two very specific memories  – Lee’s funeral and my failure to get out of the car that day  – combined with my own anxiety as a parent. Over the years as my children have grown, I’ve become very conscious of a divide, of a blockade I will never be able to cross. My kids have independent lives now, just like I do, and parts of them will remain to me like the bottom of the ocean – unseen and unknown. While that’s exactly as it should be, it still scares me. Because it allows for the possibility of my ignorance of their pain. For the possibility of being in the shoes of Lee’s mother or the white-beaded couple. It has to be the reason why I felt most closely bound to my main character’s mother, why her voice felt like my own. This is what created the engine that drove this story: sorrow, regret, fear and most importantly, hope in that if they/my readers enter a dark place, they’ll be able to find their voice to seek help and hold on through it.                    

 

* Names and relationships have been changed.

 

About THE WEIGHT OF ZERO by Karen Fortunati

weight-of-zeroContemporary Young Adult, Delacorte/Penguin Random House

Release Date: October 2016

Seventeen-year-old Catherine Pulaski knows Zero is coming for her. Zero, the devastating depression born of Catherine’s bipolar disease, has almost triumphed once, propelling Catherine to her first suicide attempt. With Zero only temporarily restrained by the latest med du jour, time is running out. In an old ballet shoebox, Catherine stockpiles medications, preparing to take her own life before Zero can inflict its own living death on her again.

But Zero’s return is delayed due to unexpected and meaningful relationships that lessen Catherine’s sense of isolation. These relationships along with the care of a gifted psychiatrist alter Catherine’s perception of her diagnosis as a death sentence. This is a story of loss and grief and hope and how some of the many shapes of love – maternal, romantic and platonic – impact a young woman’s struggle with mental illness.

Recognition:

A Summer/Fall 2016 Indies Introduce Selection

Featured in SEVENTEEN MAGAZINE, September 2016

An Apple Best Books of October Selection

 

About Karen Fortunati

re3669Karen Fortunati is a former attorney who attends graduate school at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut, and works part-time as a museum educator. She lives in Connecticut with her family and rescue dogs.

ADD ON GOODREADS

Website: www.karenfortunati.com

Twitter: @karenfortunati

Facebook: @AuthorKarenFortunati

 

#MHYALit Book Review: Girl in Pieces by Kathleen Glasgow

girlinpiecesPublisher’s description

Charlotte Davis is in pieces. At seventeen she’s already lost more than most people do in a lifetime. But she’s learned how to forget. The broken glass washes away the sorrow until there is nothing but calm. You don’t have to think about your father and the river. Your best friend, who is gone forever. Or your mother, who has nothing left to give you.

Every new scar hardens Charlie’s heart just a little more, yet it still hurts so much. It hurts enough to not care anymore, which is sometimes what has to happen before you can find your way back from the edge.
A deeply moving portrait of a girl in a world that owes her nothing, and has taken so much, and the journey she undergoes to put herself back together. Kathleen Glasgow’s debut is heartbreakingly real and unflinchingly honest. It’s a story you won’t be able to look away from.

 

Amanda’s thoughts

Do you like nearly unremittingly bleak stories? Then do I have a book for you! Now don’t jump ahead and assume that I mean that in any kind of damning way. I like bleak. I like real bleak. I like books where I think, good lord, more bad stuff? So keep reading, okay?

 

We meet Charlie as she is just getting settled in a treatment facility. She’s a cutter who has done too thorough of a job and just spent a week in the hospital. At the facility, she’s silent—selective mutism. She’s been through a lot. Prior to landing in the facility, she was homeless for nearly a year. Now in treatment, she’s getting the help she so desperately needs, grateful to be indoors, warm, and fed. But money and/or insurance doesn’t last forever, and way too soon she’s being cut loose, released to her abusive mother. Instead of going home with her mother, she’s handed some money, her birth certificate, and a bus ticket to Arizona. Great parenting. Charlie heads out there alone. Her friend Mikey is there, but Mikey’s tied to a lot of her past. He’s also not around much, so when he leaves on tour with a band, Charlie is truly alone. She gets a job washing dishes at a cafe, where she meets Riley, a sometimes charming junkie ten years her senior who quickly gets into her head, heart, and pants. Riley is horrible for Charlie. She’s trying so hard to move on from her past, but that’s not easy. Every day is a struggle for her to not cut herself. She makes a lot of crappy choices around and because of Riley. There are small good things mixed in among all this bleakness. Charlie finds solace in drawing and is going to have some of her art in a show. She’s making… I wouldn’t say “friends” at work, but she’s interacting with her coworkers and coming out of her shell a little. And when things fall apart in a pretty epic way, Charlie learns she has more support, resources, and hope than she had imagined.

 

Glasgow’s writing is stunning, moving from lush and poetic to choppy and spare. We’re in Charlie’s head a lot and slowly learn about her background—her father’s suicide, her best friend’s near-suicide, her abusive mother, her life on the streets. She isn’t much for talking, even with Riley, who’s far too self-absorbed to really think to ever ask her anything  about herself. Glasgow’s story is gritty and grim and at times almost too much to bear. I admit to taking lots of breaks while reading this one. People bend, break, leave, disappoint, hurt, die, suffer, and harm. In most cases, they also heal, change, recover, and hope in this astoundingly sad, astonishingly poignant debut.

 

For more on Girl in Pieces, see Glasgow’s previous piece for our blog, “This Book Will Save Your Life.”

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781101934715

Publisher: Random House Children’s Books

Publication date: 08/30/2016

#MHYALit: Nineteen Years of Living, a guest post by Shaun David Hutchinson

Today author Shaun David Hutchinson joins us to share his story about depression, his suicide attempt, and the 19 years that have passed since then. See all of the posts in our Mental Health in Young Adult Literature series here

 

MHYALitlogoofficfialA few years ago, I went to the emergency room with pain in my stomach and back.  In less than a day, I was undergoing surgery to have my gallbladder removed.  After I’d recovered, when co-workers asked or I was trading war stories with people, and my surgery came up, no one ever said to me, “You probably could’ve gotten better if you’d just tried harder to not be in pain,” or “That’s not a real thing; you were just looking for sympathy, weren’t you?”

 

Yet people with mental illnesses hear these sorts of things all the time.  We’re judged and ridiculed and made to feel broken.  Which is why I’m so open about my own struggles with depression and my suicide attempt at 19.  I refuse to feel ashamed about it.  I was sick, I needed help, I got treatment.  I don’t feel ashamed about having my gallbladder removed, why should I feel shame about having depression?

 

But while I often discuss my depression as a teen and my attempted suicide, I don’t often talk about what came after.  Usually the story ends with, “I attempted to kill myself and I survived and I’m lucky and happy to be alive.”  But what does that mean?  We say, “It gets better,” but how?  I know my story is only one story, but I thought telling it, describing my life after my suicide attempt, might help others who are struggling to see what “it gets better” can look like.

 

The first thing about depression is that there’s no cure.  Depression (like many mental illnesses) is something you’ll have for the rest of your life.  But it is manageable.  You can live a full, happy, and healthy life with depression.  It won’t always be easy, but it is possible. 

 

After my suicide attempt, I was in the ICU for about a week, the regular hospital for a few days after that.  Then I was committed to a psychiatric hospital for a week.  At the time, I was content that I hadn’t died, but still severely depressed. I didn’t want to be in the psychiatric hospital, and I told the doctors what they wanted to hear so they’d release me.  Because I’d attempted to OD on Tylenol, I couldn’t be medicated at the time.  I was apparently convincing enough that my doctor let me go.  But I wasn’t “better.” 

 

Over the course of the next couple of years, I stumbled about.  I enrolled in and dropped out of college multiple times.  I spent a lot of time with my best friend, and tried to start dating.  I made a lot of terrible choices, including dating some extremely questionable guys.  But I made some amazing friends too.  I started going out to a club with a group of people, and we spent every Thursday night dancing to 80s goth music at a club in Downtown West Palm.

 

During that time, I began to feel happy again.  Some of my best memories from back then were working in the Sunglass Hut with my friends and dancing badly in the clubs.  But I wasn’t “cured.”  The depression was still hanging out just beyond my vision, waiting to rear its ugly head.

 

I ended up making the poor decision to move to Georgia for a short time because of a guy I’d met and spent one night with.  When I realized my mistake, I moved home and met another guy who turned out to be a cheater and a liar, and I started messing around with drugs.  Ecstasy, acid, pot.  I never did the hard drugs, but the drugs I did take, I took a lot of.  My life was a pretty big mess.  I’d dropped out of college for the fourth time, and was working as a waiter at a TGI Fridays.  Due to my bad choices, my parents and I weren’t talking, I didn’t speak to my brother for a few years, and I’d had a falling out with my best friend because I was an idiot.  Eventually, I moved with the guy I was dating to Rhode Island.

 

For a while I settled into a semi-stable kind of life.  I worked a series of shitty jobs.  I broke up with the guy, and dated a string of new guys.  Some were nice but I broke up with them because I didn’t feel like I deserved to be loved.  Others were terrible for me but I was too dumb to see it.  I’d go to clubs in Providence, full of hope at the start of the evening, and return home a dejected wreck, convinced I was worthless.

 

There were plenty of good times too.  Again, I made some amazing friends.  I fell in love with a guy I often joke is the one who got away (though if I’m being honest, he’s much better off with the man he eventually married).  I took a solo trip to Italy.  I spent Wednesday nights singing karaoke at this cool-but-no-longer-there gay club.  I drove to Boston on the weekends, and ran through the city like I owned it.

 

But I’d never really dealt with my depression.  I’d pushed it into the corner of my mind.  I’d willfully ignored it.  And doing so eventually bit me in the ass.

 

When I was 25, I moved back to Florida.  I had, for the most part, patched things up with my family.  I’d decided to return to college and try to make something of my life.  For over a year, I did well.  I was taking six and seven classes a semester, and getting As in all of them.  I took a job working at Starbucks (mostly because they offered health insurance to part-time workers).  I reconnected with my best friend.  Things were going well, and I felt happy.  Then I met a guy.  Matt #1. 

 

Over the course of the next two years, I became very, very lost.  I fought with my parents again, I hurt my best friend…again.  I dropped out of college with only one semester left.  #1 and I engaged in a self-destructive on-again off-again relationship that refused to allow me to ignore my depression anymore.  I was, for a very short time, homeless.  I would get drunk and pass out on my bedroom floor.  I started cutting myself again (something I hadn’t done since I was hospitalized) and put out lit cigarettes on my hands.  All of which culminated with me being fired from my job at Starbucks right as I was on track to be a store manager.

 

During that time, I began to realize I needed help with my depression.  I sought out psychiatrists who put me on various medications, but I was too self-destructive back then to understand what I needed to do.  When one doctor put me on Effexor, and I started to feel a little better, I kept upping my own dosage because I figured if a little made me feel better, a lot would make me feel great.  But it doesn’t work that way.  Medication provides immense benefits to people with mental illness, so I don’t ever want to discount the good it can do, but I couldn’t see that at the time.

 

Then came a turning point.  #1 and I had broken up for what felt like the hundredth time.  I was drunk, laying on the floor of my apartment, reading a battered copy of one of the Roswell High books to keep the room from spinning.  I woke up the next morning surrounded by broken glass.  I didn’t remember breaking the glass, and though I hadn’t cut myself, I knew I could have.

 

That was the lowest I’d been since I was 19.  I decided it was time for a change.  I isolated myself from my friends—not because they were bad people, but because I needed a fresh space to confront the choices I’d been making.  I moved back home, got a job in an office, and quit smoking.  I made the decision to stop dating.  I’d thought dating shitty, shady guys was the root of my problems, but the real cause was that since the day I got out of the psychiatric hospital when I was 19, I’d been running.  From myself, my problems, and my depression. 

 

I decided to figure out who I was and who I wanted to be, and I needed to do it on my own.  During that time, I became a certified EMT (though I never got a job doing it), went to firefighter school (but decided that, while I loved it, it wasn’t for me), and I went to Europe with my mother and brother (one of the best trips of my life).  I got my own apartment and focused on my job.  I took up writing again and went on to publish my first book.  I spent a lot of time getting to know myself, and I finally understood how to separate my depression from the bad things that happened in my life.  Bad breakups hadn’t caused my depression anymore than they’d caused my hernias or my migraines.  And in learning that distinction, I began to understand how to live with depression. 

 

I started treating my depression like the disease it is.  When the pendulum swung and I felt myself slipping, I took the time I needed to get well again.  When I had a shitty day at work or when something didn’t go my way, I learned to stop treating it as a symptom of my illness.  I learned that I can feel sad or angry when not depressed and sometimes happy when I am.  Because depression isn’t a punishment, it’s a disease and nothing more. 

 

I spent five years alone.  That’s how long it took for me to really and truly understand and love myself.  When I was ready to start dating again, I did so confident in who I was and certain I was worthy.  I met Matt #2 (though always #1 in my heart).  We began dating, moved in together a year later, and this November we’ll celebrate six years as a couple.  I’ve now published five books, with more on the way.  I’ve traveled and made amazing friends and reconnected with old ones.  I just spent the last year working from home and writing full time, and now I’m back at an office job I love.  I have a lot of plans for my future.  I want to travel the world.  I want to keep writing books.  I want to grow old with this weird guy I love. I want to watch my nieces and nephews become adults. I want Marvel to call me and let me write a YA gay Iceman book, and to see Doctor Who cast a woman to play The Doctor. 

 

It’s been 19 years since I was 19 and tried to kill myself.  There were plenty of really crappy times, and equally as many wonderful ones.  Over the next 19 years, I expect more of the same.  Like I said at the beginning:  there’s no cure for depression.  That’s something I keep at the front of my mind.  I will always suffer from it.  There are days when I can feel it coming, and I call out sick from work and take care of myself.  Then there are days when it pounces so fast I don’t even realize it until I’m in the thick of it.  And while it’s been quite a while since I’ve suffered a major depressive episode, I know that it’s not only possible, but likely, I’ll go through one again. But I keep moving on. Because for every night spent crying, there’s a night spent dancing.  For every fallout with family, there’s an awkward holiday dinner to laugh about later.  For every dream that falls through, there’s a dream that becomes reality.  For every Matt #1, there’s a Matt #2. 

 

Probably my favorite line from We Are the Ants comes from Jesse’s mother when Henry asks her whether she’d press the button and save the world.  She tells him she’d press it because, “Jesse believed life wasn’t worth living, and I refuse to prove him right.”  And when depression makes me feel like life isn’t worth living, I keep going because I refuse to prove it right. 

 

So when I talk about suicide and about how I’m happy I didn’t die, this is why.  These last 19 years of failures and successes and crappy nights and beautiful days.  When we say it gets better, we don’t mean it’s better all the time, but that there are better moments worth living for.  Trust me on this one.  I’ve got 19 years of living to back me up.

 

One last thing I want to say:  Suicide isn’t something you can ever take back.  I was lucky.  Luckier than I had a right to be.  After reading The Five Stages of Andrew Brawley, I had a teacher email me and ask if I felt it was irresponsible to show two different characters attempting to commit suicide and come through it unscathed.  While I disagreed that they were unscathed, her question made me think.  A lot.  And I want to make it clear that suicide isn’t a temporary solution. It’s final. And there’s nothing glamorous about it.  The lesson isn’t that I survived suicide and you can too.  It’s that suicide should never be the solution.  It’s that life is worth living, and suicide nearly robbed me of that.  So, please, if you’re even remotely considering taking your own life, seek help immediately.  Your life is worth living. 

 

Meet Shaun David Hutchinson

shaunShaun David Hutchinson is the author of numerous books for young adults, including The Five Stages of Andrew Brawley, which won the Florida Book Awards’ Gold Medal in the Young Adult category and was named to the ALA’s 2015 Rainbow Book List, the anthology Violent Ends, which received a starred review from VOYA, and We Are the Ants, which received 5 starred reviews and was named a best book of January 2016 by Amazon, Kobo, Publisher’s Weekly, and iBooks.  He lives in South Florida with his partner and adorably chubby dog, and enjoys Doctor Who, comic books, and yelling at the TV.  Visit him at shaundavidhutchinson.com.

#MHYALit: You Won’t Find Girl Interrupted’s Angelina Jolie But At Least You’ll Be Safe! Why Being Hospitalized for Mental Health Issues Isn’t a Bad Thing, a guest post by Ami Allen-Vath

Today author Ami Allen-Vath shares her experiences with suicidal ideation, depression, hospitalization, and more. We continue to be so honored and proud to share these honest, vulnerable posts. Visit the #MHYALit hub to see all of the posts in this series. 

 

MHYALitlogoofficfialWhen I was in eleventh grade, I wrote a letter to my family and best friends. It was a goodbye letter, a letter to let them know why I couldn’t live anymore.

 

I basically told them I was having flashbacks from the sexual abuse I’d experienced as a middle-schooler. I told them I couldn’t handle life. I told them I had an eating disorder, that I was bulimic and couldn’t handle hating myself and my body anymore. But one thing I didn’t mention was my mom and stepdad’s alcoholism. I didn’t talk about the yelling and physical abuse I’d witnessed. The fights that seemed to happen every weekend. I didn’t say that I stopped inviting friends over and did my best to answer the phone first so friends calling wouldn’t hear their sloppy jokes and slurred words. The laughing and partying that went on a few hours before the fighting happened. I didn’t write about this because I was ashamed. I didn’t want anyone to know. I’d already been through a lot, so I felt like I should have my shit together already. Being a teen in a home with alcoholics felt messy and embarrassing. So, I omitted the alcoholic and domestic abuse stuff, even though the stress and secrecy was wearing me down.

 

So, I folded up the letter, took a bunch of pills and cried. And then I was sobbing. I realize now, I wanted to be heard. My crying woke my sister. What I remember from the rest of the night is my stepdad carrying me to an ambulance and soon after, the hazy snippets of the noise and chaos of an emergency room.

 

After being in the hospital a few days, I was admitted to the AIP. Adolescent Inpatient Psychiatry Fifth Floor Locked-Unit. Prior to my hospitalization, my association to a place like that was “crazy house.” I didn’t want to be there at first, but I really didn’t want to be at home. I met doctors, therapists, took different tests and went to groups and individual therapy. I met kids that had similar and different issues. I took a break from life. I really, really needed that. It was a time to focus on me and shut out the outside world. It was a safe haven and I couldn’t be hurt by the bad choices of my family and I couldn’t hurt myself. Most kids stayed for a week or two. I saw a lot of kids come and go but I stayed for a month.

 

When I went home, my problems were still there but I was equipped to handle things better. Life’s past and present issues didn’t want make me want to die anymore.

 

But about ten years later, it happened again. I had a two-year-old and had just left an awful relationship. I was living with my best friend and her new husband and they were wonderful and supportive. I also had an amazing therapist. The work I did with her had set me on a life-changing journey of healing from my past. I was working through a lot of issues I had because of the sexual abuse I’d been a victim of as a kid. I was trying to manage my eating disorder. It was very “one day at a time,” but I was trying.

 

But due to the issues I had with my ex, single motherhood, and trying to figure out how to get back on my own feet, I felt trapped. I felt like the “old Ami” who couldn’t get ahead. I became very delusional and found myself snapping into a different person. I’d write journal entries as the “old me” and slowly felt myself becoming “her.” I had a suicide plan. In a bad snowstorm, I drove my son to his father’s and said I couldn’t take care of him until I found a job and “got it together.”

 

But once again, even though I was telling my therapist a lot of the things I was dealing with, I wasn’t saying the important stuff. The stuff that had me teetering on the edge of the cliff. I didn’t tell her about my suicidal ideations. I didn’t say I’d sort of split into two people.

 

The “sane” side of me called the hospital. I made an appointment at a mental health facility and once there, the lady asked if I was going to hurt myself. I couldn’t talk. She asked if I needed help, if I needed to stay. At first, I didn’t know if I should tell her or not. But after a minute, I wanted to be heard. I cried. And shook my head yes.

 

Once again, I was in a new psych ward. I was with other adults who had problems that were just as heavy to them as mine were to me. The food wasn’t amazing. The rules could be annoying and patronizing, but being there was good. It was needed. I was safe.

 

I was there for a little over a week. I continued getting care and treatment after. I did my best to go to doctor’s appointments, therapist appointments and take the advice they were giving. Eventually, I stopped wanting to hurt myself.

 

And ten years later, which was last year, I got sick again. I’d recently moved with my husband and children to New Jersey from Georgia. Miles and miles away from close friends and family. My husband travels out of the state and country. He’s gone a few days every week. The town I live in is quiet and isolated, especially in the winter. I was now in a state where winters are cold and dark. I started writing more but once I was agented, I didn’t have enough time or space to do it. I didn’t have any family or friends to help out. I felt very alone. The stress was building at a rapid rate and once again, I felt trapped. I’m a pretty introverted person and love alone time but I missed adults. I missed having friends come by during the week. I missed going out to lunch with a coworker every once in a while. I missed going to my sister’s house on Friday or Saturdays, eating dinner together, and talking until late while the kids played.

 

I was seeing a therapist. It’d been great. We worked through a lot of the issues I had with my mom’s alcoholism. I told her about the anxiety and frustrations about not having enough time for myself and my work. I hinted at feeling overwhelmed, but I didn’t tell her the whole truth. That I was constantly thinking about suicide and wishing I could just do it and get it over with. I didn’t tell anyone that once again, I was becoming very comfortable with the idea of death.

 

But then, with much prodding from my best friend, I broke down. I cried. I admitted that it’d gotten so bad that I wasn’t safe. That I was going to hurt myself. I told her she could tell my husband because I didn’t want to. I was too afraid, too ashamed. I felt too much: I am a mom! A wife! I have a book deal and my dream is coming true! I’m supposed to have my crap together. For my family, for me.

 

The next day, my husband drove me to behavioral/mental health hospital. It was my birthday. But, I was safe. I couldn’t hurt myself. I took a break. From the stress and depression that made it hard for me to breathe. It gave me, doctors and therapists time to come up with solutions in a space where I didn’t have to deal with everything else. I learned some new coping skills. And after a week, I went home. But I wasn’t done. I started a wonderful day program. I was there for about two and a half months. Aside from new coping skills and a sort of “survival” plan, I learned a lot of ways to change the irrational thinking that had been a catalyst to my stress and catastrophizing.

 

And finally, I learned that I NEED TO TALK. I need to be honest about how I’m feeling. I shouldn’t wait until my toes are slightly over the cliff’s edge to finally ask for help. I also learned the true value of hospitalization.

 

Being admitted or admitting yourself to a psychiatric facility is not failure. When you’re overwhelmed and trapped, when it feels like there’s no way out of your depression, you’re in crisis mode. Your life is in danger. And when you’re in crisis or almost crisis mode, it’s okay and sometimes very, very necessary to take a break from “the outside world” until you are safe.

 

Hey, I love vacations. I prefer them to be somewhere warm and sunny. I like great food and tropical views and access to a nice pool. But when you lose yourself, when you’re incurably depressed, you’re going to need a little more than amazing guacamole and pina coladas to get you rejuvenated enough to want to go back home. So, the next time you hear about someone going to a mental hospital/psych ward/behavioral health facility, or if you or a friend is in crisis, don’t discount a “mental health vacation.”

 

I know my experiences aren’t going to be the same as everyone else’s and I won’t sugarcoat all the details about if you ask. But don’t dismiss hospitalization because of what you’ve seen on TV or movies. It’s not glamorous but it’s also not a giant cuckoo’s nest. A big reason my stays were successful was because I was able to drop the stigma attached to being hospitalized.

 

For me, this is true: All three times I stepped into a psychiatric ward, I went in ready to take my life. And all three times I left, I was safe. I was still alive.

 

I’m here today and I will be here tomorrow.

 

 

Note to reader: I’m very aware that hospitalization requires money and/or a good healthcare program. In my case, my first two hospitalizations were paid for using state’s healthcare program/healthcare assistance. In the third instance, my husband’s healthcare covered a lot of the bill. We were then able to pay the copays with a payment plan. It was a lot of money, but hello! The cost of a life…very worth it. Please don’t let finances or the stigma you may have attached to lack of finances prevent you from seeking help. Here are a few resources you can start with:

 

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline’s 24 hour toll-free crisis hotline, 1.800.273.TALK (1.800.273.8255) can put you into contact with your local crisis center that can tell you where to seek immediate help in your area.

Child-Help USA 1.800.4.A.CHILD (1.800.422.4453) crisis line assists both child and adult survivors of abuse, including sexual abuse. The hotline, staffed by mental health professionals, also provides treatment referrals.

In areas where 211 is available, this number connects you with mental health crisis services in your area.

 

Meet Ami Allen-Vath

Ami Allen-Vath author picAmi Allen-Vath is an ice cream enthusiast and a loather of cilantro. She’s the author of LIARS AND LOSERS LIKE US, about a teen dealing with anxiety, grief, and first love––all during prom season. Ami can be found on Twitter: @amilouiseallen, Facebook and amiallenvath.com.

 

 

 

 

About Liars and Losers Like Us

liarsKeep calm and make it to prom night—without a legit panic attack.

For seventeen-year-old Bree Hughes, it’s easier said than done when gossip, grief, and the opportunity to fail at love are practically high-fiving her in the hallways of Belmont High.

When Bree’s crush, Sean Mills, gives her his phone number, she can’t even leave a voicemail without sounding like a freak. Then she’s asked to be on Prom Court because Maisey Morgan, the school outcast nominated as a joke, declined. She apologizes to Maisey, but it’s too late. After years of torment and an ugly secret shared with their class’s cruel Pageant Queen, Maisey commits suicide. Bree is left with a lot of regret…and a revealing letter with a final request.

With Sean by her side, Bree navigates through her guilt, her parents’ divorce, and all the Prom Court drama. But when a cheating-love-triangle secret hits the fan after a night of sex, drinks, and video games, she’s left with new information about Sean and the class Pageant Queen. Bree must now speak up or stay silent. If she lets fear be her guide, she’ll lose her first love, and head to prom to avenge the death of the school outcast—as a party of one. (Sky Pony Press, March 22, 2016. SEE AMANDA’S REVIEW HERE.)

Book Review: Liars and Losers Like Us by Ami Allen-Vath

Publisher’s description

liarsKeep calm and make it to prom night—without a legit panic attack.

For seventeen-year-old Bree Hughes, it’s easier said than done when gossip, grief, and the opportunity to fail at love are practically high-fiving her in the hallways of Belmont High.

When Bree’s crush, Sean Mills, gives her his phone number, she can’t even leave a voicemail without sounding like a freak. Then she’s asked to be on Prom Court because Maisey Morgan, the school outcast nominated as a joke, declined. She apologizes to Maisey, but it’s too late. After years of torment and an ugly secret shared with their class’s cruel Pageant Queen, Maisey commits suicide. Bree is left with a lot of regret…and a revealing letter with a final request.

With Sean by her side, Bree navigates through her guilt, her parents’ divorce, and all the Prom Court drama. But when a cheating-love-triangle secret hits the fan after a night of sex, drinks, and video games, she’s left with new information about Sean and the class Pageant Queen. Bree must now speak up or stay silent. If she lets fear be her guide, she’ll lose her first love, and head to prom to avenge the death of the school outcast—as a party of one.

 

Amanda’s thoughts

I loved this book. It was the perfect mix of funny and serious. Minus the more serious themes, it would have just been a fish-out-of-water prom story, which I would’ve been fine with. But it rises above that (sometimes tired) idea and becomes a more widely appealing story with the addition of some complicated storylines. Mexican-American Minnesota teenager Bree Hughes never expects to grab the attention of her crush, Sean, nor does she expect to get elected to the prom court. It seems like lots of unexpected things are suddenly happening in Bree’s life. After years of fighting, her parents have recently gotten divorced. She’s getting into arguments with Kallie, her best friend, and keeping things from her. She’s becoming friends with the popular crowd. Perhaps most unexpected is the letter Maisey, her classmate who dies from suicide, leaves for her. We don’t know much about the letter until the very end of the book, but it’s intense.

 

Bree also suffers from anxiety and panic attacks, something she doesn’t necessarily think she needs help for. Her mother makes an appointment for her with a therapist, but Bree doesn’t see the point in going. Never mind that her panic attacks are debilitating and don’t exactly seem to be going away on their own. When she reluctantly goes to the appointment, she realizes how helpful therapy could be and changes her mind about needing help. It’s a wonderful look at someone being resistant to help, wondering what good it could possibly do to sit and talk to someone, who comes to understand how beneficial mental health care is.

 

Despite dealing with some serious issues, there’s also lots of romance in this story. Bree is so awkward and nervous at the beginning of her relationship with Sean. Their relationship grows in a very believable way. The large cast of secondary characters means there’s plenty of opportunity for drama, cheating, lying, and backstabbing. Bree and her (new) friends prove that what you see is not always the same as what’s going on underneath the surface. Secrets are revealed that show many people in new lights. Maisey’s letter, finally revealed in its entirety at the end of the story, packs a powerful punch as she writes about popularity, cruelty, bullying, and painful secrets. A smart and satisfying read.

 

Review copy courtesy of the author and the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781634501842

Publisher: Sky Pony Press

Publication date: 03/22/2016

Book Review: The Memory of Light by Francisco X. Stork

Publisher’s description

memory of lightWhen Vicky Cruz wakes up in the Lakeview Hospital Mental Disorders ward, she knows one thing: After her suicide attempt, she shouldn’t be alive. But then she meets Mona, the live wire; Gabriel, the saint; E.M., always angry; and Dr. Desai, a quiet force. With stories and honesty, kindness and hard work, they push her to reconsider her life before Lakeview, and offer her an acceptance she’s never had.

But Vicky’s newfound peace is as fragile as the roses that grow around the hospital. And when a crisis forces the group to split up, sending Vick back to the life that drove her to suicide, she must try to find her own courage  and strength. She may not have them. She doesn’t know.

Inspired in part by the author’s own experience with depression, The Memory of Light is the rare young adult novel that focuses not on the events leading up to a suicide attempt, but the recovery from one — about living when life doesn’t seem worth it, and how we go on anyway.

 

Amanda’s thoughts

I have had a lucky streak at the beginning of this year with not just reading books that are great in general, but that are specifically great in the way they deal with mental health issues. Because I read in order of publication date (the only way I can mange my towering pile of books), I didn’t even arrange for it to work out this way, to read all of these books at the start of our #MHYALit project. I have enjoyed Stork’s other two books—Marcelo in the Real World and The Last Summer of the Death Warriors—so I was expecting to like this one, too. “Like” is an understatement. This blew me away.

 

Vicky wakes up in the hospital after attempting suicide. Dr. Desai informs her she’s had her stomach pumped and that Juanita, her nanny, found her. Vicky doesn’t know how to explain what she did. She isn’t sure how to reconcile loving someone, as she does with her nanny, and still wanting to be dead. She just knows she hurts inside and she’s tired of pretending. Dr. Desai recommends Vicky stay for a few weeks for group therapy, individual therapy, to help out around the hospital, and to give them time to start to think about what medications may be useful. Vicky feels like none of that matters because she will inevitably go back to wanting to kill herself. Her chatty and affable roommate (with wrists full of scars), Mona, acts as a guide for Vicky, helping her get to know the other kids in the group. She learns that E.M. is there for anger and violence issues and Gabriel is there for, well, she’s not sure. He is slow to explain what’s going on in his life. Vicky is surprised by the “gentle but blunt sincerity” of the conversations about life in the hospital, mental illness, and more. She’s not used to people talking about these things.

 

Vicky’s dad and stepmom are high-achieving success stories, and so is Vicky’s sister. Her dad is more concerned with the school she’s missing and the fact that she’s in a public hospital (unacceptable to him) than he is with her actual state of mental health. With the support of her doctor and the group, Vicky is able to stand up for herself and stay for the treatment so she desperately needs. Though she’s promised Dr. Desai that she won’t try to kill herself while at the hospital, the thought is never far from her. She’s miserable. Vicky hates herself; she’s disgusted with herself. She is deeply, deeply sad and no one at home has recognized that. Though Vicky starts to make some inroads into feeling a little less depressed, she’s worried that going home will immediately bring everything back to feeling as desperate as it did before.

 

While the writing is outstanding and the characters well-drawn, it’s the real talk about mental illness that makes this novel stand out to me. Vicky often talks about the debilitating fog of depression, of the lies that depression makes a person believe. We learn that Mona is bipolar and see how that affects her, especially once she decides to give herself a little break from her medicine. Gabriel is possibly schizophrenic—he hears the voice of God telling him to give away his possessions and that he must die. The teens all talk about these very real illnesses and support each other when they each fall prey to believing in the lies, to feeling like they are to blame for their illnesses. At one point, Vicky says:

“It’s hard to accept that depression is an illness, that moping around from day to day with no will for so many years is not my fault. It feels like it’s my fault. Isn’t it your fault when you have all you want and need and much more than ninety-nine percent of the world has, and you still feel miserable?” (pg 102)

 

They struggle to accept their illnesses but are constantly reminded, by each other and their doctor, that what they have IS an illness and is real. The teens all come from different backgrounds and have varying levels of support or familial involvement in their treatment. They begin to really bond with each other, as the story goes on, and Vicky feels like in the hospital it’s five against one–her group and doctor against her depression. Each time we see her parents, we see so clearly how they just DO NOT get what is going on. Whether it’s ignorance—willful or otherwise–or denial, they don’t understand Vicky’s illness and make ridiculous demands on her once she leaves the hospital—get right back to school, get your grades back up, focus on getting into an Ivy League school (she’s a high school sophomore), get a job, BE FINE. Be better. Vicky, who is of course still struggling greatly with her depression, works hard to not be ashamed of what has happened and to be open with people about her needs right now. It is only after some very scary events go on with the friends in her treatment group that she can begin to make her family understand what mental illness really means and what they can do to support her. 

 

This important book is an honest and candid look at mental illness, treatment, and recovery. The focus on therapy, medication, and support shows readers the many different ways to get help. The mental illnesses are handled sensitively, and the teens’ conversations go a long way toward encouraging open dialogues about mental health, acceptance, and the removal of stigma. Expect this profoundly moving book to fly off shelves. 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9780545474320

Publisher: Scholastic, Inc.

Publication date:01/26/2016

#MHYALit: Author Ann Jacobus Talks About Suicide

Trigger Warning: Suicide and Suicidal Ideation are Discussed

On January 1st of this year, one of my best friend’s from high school ended his life. I had no idea he was even struggling and am still likely to break out into tears throughout the course of the day. Because of recent events, I have had to explain suicide to my 13-year-old daughter, The Teen. Today, as part of #MHYALit, we are honored to have author Ann Jacobus here discussing the topic of suicide and her YA novel, Romancing the Dark in the City of Light.

You can read all the #MHYALit posts here.

annjacobusHow are you feeling today?

I volunteer at a national suicide crisis line. Every week I talk to or text with dozens of people who are feeling depressed and overwhelmed; are dealing with mental illness and need someone to help; are worried about a loved one who is feeling suicidal; or are feeling suicidal themselves.

Why? you may ask. For the same reason most of us volunteer there—personal experience with and understanding of how difficult suicide is for all concerned.

I was an artsy kid. As a teen, I suffered from undiagnosed and untreated depression, off and on for a number of years. We moved a lot and my family went through a divorce upheaval. At age fifteen, my mom, three younger siblings and I moved once again in the middle of my sophomore year of high school to a new state. The shift from thinking life sucked, to thinking it wasn’t worth living, to actively wanting to take my own was gradual, but suicide came to seem like a sensible option. It felt like the only thing that I could control, and that would for certain alleviate what felt unendurable.

Fortunately, I stalled.

This is what we do on the crisis line–help get you through the next 24 hours, with emotional support and a plan for coping and self-care.

While stalling, I did research on death and dying, ate a lot of mac and cheese, and Baskin Robbins ice cream, partook of marathon sleeps, and escaped into novels and stories whenever possible. I finally made a friend or two, and took a mime class (no joke). As a more-or-less responsible oldest child, I did realize that the consequences of such a choice would devastate my already struggling family.

I figured I could probably hang on for one more day.

Thankfully, as a stay-at-home-nerd, my access to alcohol and drugs was limited. Being drunk or high on a bad day would have impaired my already questionable judgment and removed any remaining inhibitions, possibly resulting in an attempt.

Eventually things got a little better. Dying was still on my mind.

It got way better finally, but that took awhile.

Untreated mental illness or depression is the number one cause of suicide. And alcohol or substance abuse correlates significantly with attempts and completions.

Suicidality (the term for feeling suicidal) is a possible symptom of a number of mental illnesses but goes along most often with depression, and mood or personality disorders. In a massive 2013 CDC study of US high school students, nearly 1 out of 3 struggled with some depression in the previous year. 17% or about 1 out of 6 actually had thoughts of suicide.

Those feeling suicidal almost always show signs. These include anti-sociable traits such as being moody, angry and/or withdrawn. And abusing drugs or alcohol.

I told no one for decades that I had wanted to take my own life. It was hard to admit. I felt like a freak. Plus it would upset everyone, and they would look at me differently and think less of me (pride, much?). But like the cyanide capsule one carries inside a molar to swallow if captured by the enemy, the option was there if the world became inescapably unbearable.

Almost anyone can end up suffering a run-in with mental illness. Genetic factors are obviously important, but so are biological, social, and environmental factors. If enough things are piled on a person, they will break. Every one of us will have loss, grief, and unfortunately sometimes violence, in our lives—and when we feel alone and disconnected, we have much greater difficulty coping.

Even with no genetic predisposition to mental illness, you are at higher risk of going into crisis or having a mental health break:

If your family is rejecting and non-supportive of you (because of your sexuality or gender identity, for example)

If peers are rejecting and non-supportive of you (bullying)

If you failed to form strong primary attachments as a baby/young child

If you live now or in the past with the stress of poverty, abuse or violence

If you experienced trauma as a child, or recently (PTSD)

If you have recently been incarcerated

If you don’t sleep well (rest and dreaming help us process life’s ups and downs)

If you abuse alcohol or drugs (actually a chicken or egg thing…)

If you are more sensitive and creative

Many mental health issues such as anxiety disorders, OCD, self-harm, and substance abuse are the way our minds and bodies try to COPE with stress and anguish that is overwhelming.

During one of life’s many transition periods, and this includes “positive” things such as moving, adding a new family member, adolescence, a new job, or even marriage, our coping skills are already taxed. Throw in a big loss or trauma—a break-up, a death, or a car accident—and, wham! We’re overwhelmed.

Normally we’ll get a little more support from family and friends, from our religion, from a crisis line, and ideally, self-care.

But sadly, if our mental health falters or fails, it’s like someone having pneumonia or brain cancer that everyone ignores. At best, someone says, “buck up, petunia.”

Medical attention and/or therapy and medication can help get us through it, no sweat, but we’re afraid to ask for the help we need.

That’s because of stigma.

Stigma leads to silence, prevents treatment, causes loss of life.

So, What Can You Do?

Ask for help. Almost all mental health disorders can be successfully treated.

Suicide is preventable.

Work on your coping skills: supportive relationships with loved ones, exercise, sleep, diet, spiritual life, meditation, daily structure.

Read others’ stories. There are so many great YA books out now that give the real low-down on all aspects of mental health. Here’s some on suicide. (Goodreads list of books that deal with suicide).

Share your story – this is the ultimate way to fight stigma. The more we talk about mental illness and suicide, the more we help us all.

And last but not least, ask someone you’re worried about how they’re feeling. Then listen.

Meet Author Ann Jacobus

Ann Jacobus earned a MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults at Vermont College of Fine Arts, volunteers for San Francisco Suicide Prevention, and is the author of YA thriller Romancing the Dark in the City of Light (Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin’s Griffin).

18 year-old Summer Barnes just arrived at high school in Paris and is depressed, anxious, and thinks that changing her location or meeting someone will solve everything. Plus she’s got a drinking problem, not to mention sleeping, eating, focusing, and doing-her-work problems. She meets two guys who pull her in opposite directions. As suicide starts to look like a solution, one boy pulls her toward the light, and the other one pulls her toward darkness.

www.annjacobus.com

@AnnJacobusSF

www.facebook.com/annjacobus.author

About Romancing the Dark in the City of Light

A troubled teen, living in Paris, is torn between two boys, one of whom encourages her to embrace life, while the other—dark, dangerous, and attractive—urges her to embrace her fatal flaws.Haunting and beautifully written, with a sharp and distinctive voice that could belong only to this character, Romancing the Dark in the City of Light is an unforgettable young adult novel.Summer Barnes just moved to Paris to repeat her senior year of high school. After being kicked out of four boarding schools, she has to get on track or she risks losing her hefty inheritance. Summer is convinced that meeting the right guy will solve everything. She meets two. Moony, a classmate, is recovering against all odds from a serious car accident, and he encourages Summer to embrace life despite how hard it can be to make it through even one day. But when Summer meets Kurt, a hot, mysterious older man who she just can’t shake, he leads her through the creepy underbelly of the city-and way out of her depth.

When Summer’s behavior manages to alienate everyone, even Moony, she’s forced to decide if a life so difficult is worth living. With an ending that’ll surprise even the most seasoned reader, Romancing the Dark in the City of Light is an unputdownable and utterly compelling novel.

Book Review: We Are The Ants by Shaun David Hutchinson

Publisher’s description:

we are the antsFrom the “author to watch” (Kirkus Reviews) of The Five Stages of Andrew Brawley comes a brand-new novel about a teenage boy who must decide whether or not the world is worth saving.

Henry Denton has spent years being periodically abducted by aliens. Then the aliens give him an ultimatum: The world will end in 144 days, and all Henry has to do to stop it is push a big red button.

Only he isn’t sure he wants to.

After all, life hasn’t been great for Henry. His mom is a struggling waitress held together by a thin layer of cigarette smoke. His brother is a jobless dropout who just knocked someone up. His grandmother is slowly losing herself to Alzheimer’s. And Henry is still dealing with the grief of his boyfriend’s suicide last year.

Wiping the slate clean sounds like a pretty good choice to him.

But Henry is a scientist first, and facing the question thoroughly and logically, he begins to look for pros and cons: in the bully who is his perpetual one-night stand, in the best friend who betrayed him, in the brilliant and mysterious boy who walked into the wrong class. Weighing the pain and the joy that surrounds him, Henry is left with the ultimate choice: push the button and save the planet and everyone on it…or let the world—and his pain—be destroyed forever.

 

Amanda’s thoughts:

We first meet Henry when we read his words, the opening words of the novel: “Chemistry: Extra Credit Project. Life is bullshit.” Henry has spent the last year, if not the many years prior to it, too, honing his nihilism. Life is absurd and meaningless. We are insignificant and don’t matter. We’re just ants. So when he gets the chance to stop the world from ending, he really has to think it over. Why let the world go on? With all of the pain and misery and unfairness, why not let it all end? He’s looking at the big picture of things, sure, but this is also just about him. Is not wanting the world to go on the same thing as wanting to die? Is not believing the world–filled with so many mistakes and so much pain–deserves to go on the same thing as not believing that he deserves to go on? Is letting the world end just an extremely epic way to commit suicide? As we get to know Henry–grieving, lonely, guilt-ridden Henry–we see why he’s so conflicted over a question that might seem like it has an easy answer.

 

Henry has 144 days to get through before either saving the world or letting it end. A lot of those days are terrible. Thanks to his brother spreading the word that Henry had been abducted by aliens, he’s known around school as Space Boy. Since the suicide of his boyfriend Jesse, he doesn’t have any friends. He hooks up with Marcus, the school’s golden boy and a supreme bully, in secret, trying to fill the Jesse-shaped hole in his life. Marcus torments him, physically and verbally, but Henry keeps going back for more. He feels guilty for Jesse’s suicide and, maybe as a result, doesn’t seem to care very much about what happens to him or what the consequences might be. After all, if the world is about to end, why make things worse than they are? Why call out bullies, or think you deserve better, or think anything will change? Why want or hope? Nothing matters–right?

 

As you might expect, some things happen to Henry that make him have to think harder about both what he might ultimately do about the whole world ending thing and about actually living his life instead of just standing by while things happen to him. He meets Diego, a mysterious and complicated new guy with a troubled past. He starts hanging out again with Audrey, Jesse’s (and his) BFF. He starts to see the potential for change and for better lives with his mother and his brother. But none of these things means suddenly life becomes bearable. He’s still routinely assaulted and taunted. He’s still scared to get close to anyone. He can’t see how he can possibly be with Diego (who Henry thought was straight and who says the excellent line, “I like people, not the parts they have.”) when Diego wants to ignore the past and Henry doesn’t believe in a future. He’s still wracked with grief, guilt-ridden, hopeless, and just desperately sad. Everything–the entire fate of the world–ultimately comes down to whether or not Henry wants to go on living. 

 

Hutchinson’s latest book is a powerful look at depression, grief, guilt, families, bullying, hope, and the power to change. He shows us an extremely broken character, one who’s not convinced it’s worth it to even try to put the pieces back together, and really makes us wonder not only what will ultimately happen to the universe, but what will happen to Henry as he falls deeper and deeper into despair. Another fantastic book from Hutchinson, who is quickly becoming one of my favorite authors. Smart, funny, weird, and heartbreaking, this title will have wide appeal thanks to compelling characters, an offbeat plot, and fantastic writing. 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher and Edelweiss

ISBN-13: 9781481449632

Publisher: Simon Pulse

Publication date: 01/19/2016

The Need For Realistic, Compassionate Portrayals of Sexual Violence In LGBTQIA+ (and all YA) Lit, a guest post by Cheryl Rainfield

By Cheryl Rainfield, author of YA novels SCARS, STAINED, HUNTED, and PARALLEL VISIONS (@CherylRainfield)

 

cheryl-books-prideWhen I was a child and teen, I lived through daily/nightly rape, torture, and mind control at the hands of my parents and other abusers; my parents belonged to intergenerational, interconnected cults. I was also queer. When people hear that, they often ask me if I’m lesbian because I was raped. My answer—and that of my queer survivor characters—is a resounding no. I was raped by both men and women in the cult, and by both of my parents, grandparents, and other relatives. Each rape traumatized, disgusted, and terrified me, no matter which gender raped me. And if rape could make survivors queer, then there’d be a heck of a lot more queer people in the world since at least 1 in 3 girls and 1 in 5 boys have experienced sexual abuse by the time they reach age 18Queer teens experience more rape than heterosexuals and have to face homophobia on top of it—sometimes in the form of rape, being beaten, being turned out of our families and homes, or other forms of hatred and  fear turned on us. I think we need books that talk about these experiences in an honest and real way. LGB teens are four times as likely to attempt suicide than heterosexual teens and half of transgender teens have seriously thought of suicide and 1 in 4 attempt it.

LGBTQIA+ teens (and adults) need to know they’re not alone and it can get better, and LGBTQIA+ survivors of rape, abuse, sexual violence, and torture need to know it even more.

 

#WeNeedDiverseBooks-lgbtq-rainfieldI felt so alone and in so much pain as a child and teen; I wanted to die most of the time and did actually try a few times to kill myself. I desperately wanted to know that I wasn’t alone, that I wasn’t the only one going through these horrific experiences or the only one was queer, and I tried to find that in books. I found small bits of validation, such as a character who was bullied or survived incest or a lesbian character, but I didn’t find enough—which is part of why I write the books I do. I write the books I needed to read as a teen and couldn’t find. I want others to know they’re not alone.

When we feel alone in traumatic or painful experiences—including abuse and homophobia—it makes the pain so much worse. I think when we see reflections of ourselves and our experiences, it helps lessen our pain, reassure us that we are not alone, help us feel healthier and happier, learn new ways of coping and surviving, and feel that we, too, can survive since characters with similar issues did.

Reading about characters who’ve experienced similar trauma or painful experiences can also help us decrease our shame, self-blame, and self-hatred; increase our compassion and acceptance for ourselves and others; and give us a tool to talk about the issue with others. And we all deserve to have that.

 

Readers have told me many times that because of my books, they were able to talk to someone for the first time about being queer, their abuse, or their self-harm; get help; stop self-harming; have more compassion for themselves or for someone who is a sexual abuse survivor, queer, or uses self-harm; feel less alone; survive the pain they’re living through; feel stronger in their own lives; and even keep from killing themselves. Books help heal.

 

#WeNeedDiverseBooks-everyone-reflections-rainfieldI don’t think there are enough YA novels with survivors of sexual violence written in a sensitive, realistic way, especially from someone who’s been there and knows what it’s like from the inside out; not enough YA books with queer characters; and definitely not enough books with both. And yet there is a need—not only for the queer community, but also for the world to help lessen homophobia and help increase awareness of sexual violence and its effects. An emotionally honest book about painful experiences can help readers whether they are queer or heterosexual, whether they have experienced sexual violence or some other form of abuse, or even if they haven’t experienced any of that at all but know someone who has. Books help us increase compassion and understanding by temporarily slipping into the soul of the character.

 

 

“Reading is the sole means by which we slip, involuntarily, often helplessly, into another’s skin, another’s voice, another’s soul.” –Joyce Carol Oates

 

cheryl-sometimes-be-own-heroI write about many of the traumatic experiences I’ve been through—rape and incest, self-harm, being queer and experiencing homophobia from a parent in SCARS; rape, being held captive, being withheld food and water in STAINED; oppression, betrayal, and being hunted in HUNTED; homophobic-based rape and gang rape, suicidal thoughts, and depression in PARALLEL VISIONS. I write strong-girl characters, emotionally-strong boy characters, and both queer and heterosexual characters who help each other. I try to write queer characters, characters of color, and characters with mental- or physical-health issues into my books, reflecting our real world. And I also write about many of the techniques I’ve used to heal and cope—creating art, seeing a therapist, talking to friends, reading comics and collecting superhero items, creating my own superhero from myself.

I always write strong-girl characters who have to save themselves. That is what I had to do—rescue myself—over and over again until I was finally safe.

I write honestly from my own trauma and healing experiences, opening up to my intense emotions, bleeding them out onto the page so the reader can feel. So that they understand—whether they’ve been through something similar or not. So that if they’ve been through it, they know they’re not alone.

 

And I show some of the possible side effects from rape, sexual abuse, trauma, and abuse—PTSD, dissociation, cheryl-superman-tanxiety, panic attacks, depression, suicidal thoughts, self-harm, isolation—all things I’ve experienced and know well. It’s important to me to show what the effects of rape and sexual violence are really like. They leave deep emotional scars. It’s not something we walk away from and shrug off like a second skin—the way some movies, TV shows, and comics suggest. And it’s not something that I think should ever be used just for dramatic effect or to make another (usually male) character become a hero. If we don’t show the intense pain, despair, depression, and other resulting effects from  rape and trauma, I think we are doing us all a great disservice by telling survivors, perpetrators, and everyone else that sexual violence leaves no trauma or side effects aside from the physical. I believe that the worst and deepest wounds aren’t physical, but are emotional and psychological. So it’s important to me to write realistic stories of sexual violence and trauma that teens can relate to, and yet are also full of hope and healing.

 

cheryl-rainfield-nobody-knows-im-lesbianIt’s also important to me to write books where the queer characters are happy with their sexuality—not just books where the character is coming out, but books where the story is about something else and the character just happens to be queer—and books where the queer characters are in relatively happy, healthy, consensual relationships, where the tension and strife is coming most from the outside, and a queer character doesn’t get penalized or killed off because they’re queer. I think books with queer characters can help normalize being queer, fight homophobia and hatred, and increase compassion.

Queer readers need books we can enjoy and experience the way heterosexuals can most any time they pick up a book—and heterosexual readers need to be exposed to queer characters as just a reflection of the world we live in.

 

I think there is a great need for LGBTQIA+ YA books that have positive queer characters, that explore rape, abuse, homophobia, and trauma in realistic, sensitive, and hopeful ways, and that include both. I hope to see many more such books in the future. I will keep writing the books I need to. And I hope that you will read, write, or share the books you need to, the books that help you feel alive or the books that moved you. Read on!

 

Meet Cheryl Rainfield

CHERYLCheryl Rainfield is the author of the award-winning SCARS, a novel about a queer teen sexual abuse survivor who uses self-harm to cope; the award-winning HUNTED, a novel about a teen telepath in a world where any paranormal power is illegal; STAINED, about a teen who is abducted and must rescue herself; and PARALLEL VISIONS, about a teen who sees visions and must save a friend. Cheryl Rainfield is a lesbian feminist, incest and ritual abuse torture survivor, and an avid reader and writer. She lives in Toronto with her little dog Petal.

Cheryl Rainfield has been said to write with “great empathy and compassion” (VOYA) and to write stories that “can, perhaps, save a life.” (CM Magazine)  SLJ said of her work: “[readers] will be on the edge of their seats.”

You can find Cheryl on her website CherylRainfield.com or her blog http://www.CherylRainfield.com/blog, on Twitter: http://www.Twitter.com/CherylRainfield, Instagram: http://www.Instagram.com/CherylRainfield, and FaceBook http://www.facebook.com/CherylRainfield.

Take 5: Books about suicide

Did you know that under the Teen Issues link up there on the menu bar, you can find lots of great posts and book lists organized by issue? Everything from addiction to violence is covered. If you don’t see a topic covered that you think is of interest, please leave a comment, tweet us (Amanda MacGregor @CiteSomething or Karen Jensen @TLT16), or email us at the addresses provided on the About TLT page.

 

Take 5: Books about suicide (2015)

All descriptions of these recently published books from the publisher. I’ve reviewed three of them recently (and the other two reviews will be forthcoming), so check out the links for my thoughts on them. It’s interesting that three of the books on this list all came out on the same day. Books about suicide are certainly not a new trend, but the publication of so many titles about this topic so close together is worth noting.

 

All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven

Publisher: Random House Children’s Books

Publication date: 1/6/2015

ISBN-13: 9780385755887

Summary:

Theodore Finch is fascinated by death, and he constantly thinks of ways he might kill himself. But each time, something good, no matter how small, stops him.

Violet Markey lives for the future, counting the days until graduation, when she can escape her Indiana town and her aching grief in the wake of her sister’s recent death.

When Finch and Violet meet on the ledge of the bell tower at school, it’s unclear who saves whom. And when they pair up on a project to discover the “natural wonders” of their state, both Finch and Violet make more important discoveries: It’s only with Violet that Finch can be himself—a weird, funny, live-out-loud guy who’s not such a freak after all. And it’s only with Finch that Violet can forget to count away the days and start living them. But as Violet’s world grows, Finch’s begins to shrink.

 

Playlist for the Dead by Michelle Falkoff 

Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers

Publication date: 1/27/2015

ISBN-13: 9780062310507

Summary:

Part mystery, part love story, and part coming-of-age tale in the vein of The Perks of Being a Wallflower and The Spectacular Now.

There was a party. There was a fight. The next morning, Sam’s best friend, Hayden, was dead. And all he left Sam was a playlist of songs and a suicide note: For Sam—listen and you’ll understand. To figure out what happened, Sam has to rely on the playlist and his own memory. But the more he listens, the more he realizes that his memory isn’t as reliable as he thought. And it might only be by taking out his earbuds and opening his eyes to the people around him that he’ll finally be able to piece together his best friend’s story. And maybe have a chance to change his own.

Playlist for the Dead is an honest and gut-wrenching first novel about loss, rage, what it feels like to outgrow a friendship that’s always defined you—and the struggle to redefine yourself. But above all, it’s about finding hope when hope seems like the hardest thing to find.

(See my review of this title here.)

 

The Last Time We Say Goodbye by Cynthia Hand

Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers

Publication date: 2/10/2015

ISBN-13: 9780062318473

Summary:

Since her brother, Tyler, committed suicide, Lex has been trying to keep her grief locked away, and to forget about what happened that night. But as she starts putting her life, her family, and her friendships back together, Lex is haunted by a secret she hasn’t told anyone—a text Tyler sent, that could have changed everything.

In the tradition of Jay Asher’s Thirteen Reasons Why, Gayle Forman’s If I Stay, and Lauren Oliver’s Before I Fall,The Last Time We Say Goodbye is a thoughtful and deeply affecting novel that will change the way you look at life and death.

(See my review of this title here, as well as my thoughts on the character’s attitude toward mental health medications here)

 

My Heart and Other Black Holes by Jasmine Warga 

Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers

Publication date: 2/10/2015

ISBN-13: 9780062324672

Summary:

Sixteen-year-old physics nerd Aysel is obsessed with plotting her own death. With a mother who can barely look at her without wincing, classmates who whisper behind her back, and a father whose violent crime rocked her small town, Aysel is ready to turn her potential energy into nothingness.

There’s only one problem: she’s not sure she has the courage to do it alone. But once she discovers a website with a section called Suicide Partners, Aysel’s convinced she’s found her solution—Roman, a teenage boy who’s haunted by a family tragedy, is looking for a partner. Even though Aysel and Roman have nothing in common, they slowly start to fill in each other’s broken lives. But as their suicide pact becomes more concrete, Aysel begins to question whether she really wants to go through with it. Ultimately, she must choose between wanting to die or trying to convince Roman to live so they can discover the potential of their energy together.

(See my review of this title here)

 

When Reason Breaks by Cindy L. Rodriguez

Publisher: Bloomsbury USA

Publication date: 2/10/2015

ISBN-13: 9781619634121

Summary:

A Goth girl with an attitude problem, Elizabeth Davis must learn to control her anger before it destroys her. Emily Delgado appears to be a smart, sweet girl with a normal life, but as depression clutches at her, she struggles to feel normal. Both girls are in Ms. Diaz’s English class, where they connect to the words of Emily Dickinson. Both are hovering on the edge of an emotional precipice. One of them will attempt suicide. And with Dickinson’s poetry as their guide, both girls must conquer their personal demons to ever be happy.

In an emotionally taut novel that is equal parts literary and commercial, with a richly diverse cast of characters, readers will relish in the poetry of Emily Dickinson and be completely swept up in the turmoil of two girls fighting for their lives.

 

If you would like to recommend additional titles on this topic, please leave us a comment. We always look forward to hearing what books others value and recommend.

 

Some other great posts that detail more books can be found at:

Stacked, “Suicide and Depression in YA: A Discussion and Book List.” 

YA Book Shelf, “Suicide Awareness Week Wrap Up.” 

Jennifer R. Hubbard, “YA Books about Suicide.” 

Editing this to add: Stacked: “The Rise of Suicide in YA Fiction and Exploring Personal Biases in Reading.”