I've decided to put these two books together because they deal with the same issues that is getting more and more media attention: bullying and suicide. Both allow the reader to get inside the suicidal girl's head, though in different ways. Both girls have different reasons, though they share the same roots.
Let's start with Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher, published by Razorbill in 2007. (Just so we're clear, I got the audio CD version of this from my local library).
Clay is surprised when he receives a package with no return address, but he's absolutely shocked when he starts listening to the audio cassettes inside. The tapes are the suicide note of Hannah Baker, his classmate and crush, who killed herself two weeks ago. To make matters even more life shattering, Hannah has arranged for the tapes to be passed on to each person who she believes shares the blame of why she killed herself. Thirteen reasons, thirteen people. And Clay is one of them.
At first I didn't think I would like this. I was very averse to the idea of a girl blaming everyone else for her suicide and making them feel guilty after the fact, without confronting them before her death.
But as I listened to this, I saw that it's much more than that. This is a way to make readers see that they're actions affect others, often more than they realize. Even the slightest action, a little bullying here, a little rumor-spreading there, can kill a person inside a little bit at a time. Hannah described it as "the snowball effect," one thing piling up on another. It really tries to bring you into the head of someone suicidal, although I've never been there so I can't say for sure if it's accurate. There were times when it rang a little false to me, but then again who am I to say?
I really loved Clay's reactions to the tapes, too. The back-and-forth dialogue between Hannah's voice and Clay's was often heartbreaking, sometimes even a little funny. But mostly, it was haunting. This book is not one that was written to blame suicide on those around a person who commits it; it is warning to be mindful, yes, but it also doesn't let Hannah off the hook, and she doesn't let herself off the hook either. It's a serious look at teen suicide. I can't say much more without giving too much away, but it's worth the read even to just allow yourself to form your own opinion.
Another serious look at teen suicide comes to us in By the Time You Read This I'll Be Dead by Julie Anne Peters, published by Hyperion in 2010. (I also got this from my local library.)
Instead of a book about someone who has already killed herself, this book is about someone who is desperate to end her life and has tried to multiple times. This time, Daelyn doesn't want to fail, and she has the help of Through-the-Light.com, an online suicide forum.
Daelyn has been bullied her entire life, for her size mostly, but also for various other reasons. She is determined to be successful in her next suicide attempt, and is counting down the days to her "Day of Determination" when a boy who lives near her school starts to pay attention to her. He is friendly and does not give up on her when she pays him not attention and tries to get him away from her. He keeps trying to penetrate the thick wall she's built around herself, but she doesn't have the courage or strength to allow someone to get close to her. At least, she doesn't think she does.
Reading this book was often painful. It is very hard to read about all of the horror Daelyn has endured through her life, whether it's bullying at school, by adults, or by camp counselors. Sometimes it got too unbelievable; I couldn't imagine things ever getting as bad as they got for Daelyn, but I'm sure they do for some people. Bullycide is being covered by the media a lot lately, and it is an issue that should be dealt with, especially with everyday students and children. It's easy to see that people can be bullies without even realizing it. I'm sure many of us have bullied in the past, not thinking about the target or how it affects them long term.
Daelyn is silent through most of the book, which kind of reminded me of Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson, but Daelyn is not silent because she refuses to speak. She is physically unable to because of a botched suicide attempt. This gives us a very intense and focused view inside Daelyn's head, as the book is narrated by her. There are moments of dark humor, but mostly Daelyn tries to suppress her memories of the abuse she's endured over the years, and how she was blamed for the way others treated her.
Again, this is a wake-up call to everyone to watch how they treat others, even if you aren't necessarily bullying them. Daelyn's parents are trying to help her, but it's clear they don't understand what is going on. Daelyn is unable to tell them why she acts the way she does, and they are quick to get frustrated and partially blame her, even if they don't mean to. This is another good young adult book about suicide and bullying, and will certainly open the way for discussion.