Monday, September 20, 2010

Review - Suicide Notes by Michael Thomas Ford

Summary: (via Goodreads) I'm not crazy. I don't see what the big deal is about what happened. But apparently someone does think it's a big deal because here I am. I bet it was my mother. She always overreacts.

Fifteen-year-old Jeff wakes up on New Year's Day to find himself in the hospital. Make that the psychiatric ward. With the nutjobs. Clearly, this is all a huge mistake. Forget about the bandages on his wrists and the notes on his chart. Forget about his problems with his best friend, Allie, and her boyfriend, Burke. Jeff's perfectly fine, perfectly normal, not like the other kids in the hospital with him. Now they've got problems. But a funny thing happens as his forty-five-day sentence drags on—the crazies start to seem less crazy.

Review: Suicide Notes is a book with a bold title that doesn’t shy away from dealing with a bold subject: suicide. Written as a 45 day log, it is the story of Jeff, a suicide-attemptee, who is enrolled in a teen suicide program after his parents discover him bleeding to death on his bedroom floor one New Year’s Eve.

Even though none of this is the least bit funny, Jeff’s narration, as he begins to describe life in the psychiatric unit, is surprisingly jolly. Instead of embarking on some morbid trip of self introspection, Jeff humors us with his observations of the strange and weird and wondrous people that surround him. Yeah, he might have tried to off himself just days ago, but in a psych ward that’s more or less the norm. As he sees it, an entirely different set of criteria must be applied before correctly labeling one as a “loony” (e.g., laughing at the idea of burning someone else to death in their sleep, and the like).

Eventually though, the dark sarcasm fades and is replaced by the deeper emotions that have been plaguing Jeff all this time. He is a kid with a secret, a secret that seems both frightening and shameful to him. And at fifteen, dealing with things you can’t change or know how to accept can feel impossible. Suicide seemed like a way out at some point, but now that Jeff has survived the attempt, he must once again face the issues as well as the consequences of what he has done.

As a character, Jeff can be described as scared and withheld. Some narrators are created to tell the reader everything about themselves in the first few pages of a book, while others hold back and need you to be there during the whole adventure before you can know them completely. Jeff is appropriately molded using the second technique and most of his confessions don’t happen until the second half of the story. Not unlike a new friendship, you have to experience enough with him to finally earn his trust.

My favorite part of the story is the insight into the parent-child dynamic shifts that happen after a suicide attempt. No one would argue the difficulty in facing your loved ones after making such a decision about your future. Jeff is forced to deal with this during several program-designated family sessions, where parents and child share feelings about what has happened. These sessions were difficult and emotional and as realistic as I can imagine them being. Jeff’s mother and father were authentic in the sorrow they felt over their underrepresented love for Jeff and their general cluelessness in understanding this quickly maturing version of him.

The issue of suicide isn't easy to handle because of all the blame and the hurt and the emotions that must be described. Michael Thomas Ford writes compellingly about all these, while also injecting the right amount of hopefulness and humor.

Lit Snit Verdict: B

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