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Tag: suicide

Dealing with Suicide & Depression in Teen Literature

All the Bright PlacesAs someone whose family has been affected by both depression and suicide, I am always interested in how authors, especially those writing for teens, choose to represent aspects of a character’s mental health.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Health, approximately 2 million U.S. adolescents attempt suicide each year in the United States, which (and not to sound childish) makes me extremely sad and want a way to be able to reach out to those readers who might not feel comfortable talking about it, but who desire a way to process their own feelings on the subject.

Recently, I had been reading a lot of YA fiction galleys, and I noticed a trend – books about suicide and depression have definitely increased, and I think that is very good thing for not only teens, but also those who work with teens or have special teens in their lives. Society hasn’t always been kind to the topic of mental illness (still isn’t in a lot of ways, actually) – but, being about to talk about it openly without fear of reprisal is something that has gotten better over the past few years. And, with the influx of new teen literature looking at suicide and depression in responsible, caring ways there comes a new way to reach out to those who are maybe struggling with it or dealing with it in their family or group of friends. I was happy to see School Library Journal’s excellent new bibliotherapy booklist for teens – it offers suggestions for those struggling with depression and suicide, but other tough topics, as well; be sure to check it out, if you haven’t already. In today’s post, I thought I’d highlight my five favorite new books that deal with suicide – I think all of them treat it with respect and a thoughtful nature.

All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven: This book is actually my favorite out of the bunch; I really think this is one of the most realistic portrayals of depression and suicide that I have read in a really long time. Violet and Finch meet at the top of the bell tower at their school; they are both entertaining the thought of jumping to their deaths. Finch has been dealing with depression and bipolar disorder for quite a while, but Violet has only started entertaining the thought of suicide since her older sister/best friend recently died in a car accident. After some hesitation on Violet’s part, Finch manages to get Violet to start hanging out with him, and their relationship progresses from there. However, like life, sometimes finding a special someone doesn’t mean that your depression goes away; love doesn’t cure a mental illness, which, I think, is an unfortunate message that a lot of teen books about suicide offer up as a happy ending. Sometimes people still commit suicide even though they have someone who is trying desperately to understand and help them, and I applaud this book for showing a real-life ending – one that isn’t necessarily neat or pretty. But, this is a hopeful book full of love and future plans, and one that readers will be talking about.

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The Controversy over “Sick-lit”

I’d never heard the term “sick-lit” until recently, when I came across a UK Daily Mail article delivering the news that there is a rise of “exploitative” modern YA fiction in our midst. Allegedly, sick-lit is the rising sub-genre of realistic fiction that — at its worst — aims to glorify death, suicide, and cutting; at its best it encourages vanity and shallowness.

The Fault in Our StarsWhich books are these? you ask. Well, according to Tanith Carey, author of the aforementioned UK Daily Mail article, one of the worst offenders is John Green’s The Fault in our Stars. Another is Jay Asher’s Thirteen Reasons WhyBy the Time You Read This, I’ll be Dead by Julie Ann Peters also makes the list. Tanith, with encouragement from popular children’s book reviewer Amanda Craig, has determined that these books and others like them that take on such serious topics such as terminal illness and suicide do more harm than good. Their concern is that rather than providing a safe means to explore tough subjects from a safe book-land distance, these books might encourage damaging behaviors or depression merely by planting the seeds into young, impressionable minds. Evidently, by reading about a teen who attempts suicide in reaction to a stressful event, a teen reader has been prompted and prepared on the dos and don’ts of successful suicide. Or, as is the case with our beloved Hazel from The Fault in Our Stars, sick-lit presents characters who romanticize death and dying by being overly concerned with trivial teen-aged topics like love.

‘Cause you know, when you’re dying, apparently you should be out campaigning for a cure for cancer or saving the world, or at the very least not be charming; you definitely should not be thinking about kissing or experiencing life to its fullest or even just watching reality TV, either.