The aftermath of suicide is difficult to imagine, let alone address. Yet YA literature has not shied away from the topic. Two very popular YA books that address it directly come immediately to mind: Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher and Looking for Alaska by John Green.
In her memoir, released today, Bialosky succeeds in writing beautifully about the suicide of her younger sister. This quote from an interview with the author in the 12/20/10 issue of Publishers Weekly, titled “The Last Taboo,” gives a sense of Bialosky’s purpose in writing the book, “I hope the book is ultimately uplifting—my son is a bright light in the book—and not a push to put suicide into its box of shame. It touches more lives than one might know.”
And another excellent interview about the book — in November, Barbara Hoffert interviewed Atria Editorial Director, Peter Borland on her Library Journal blog, Prepub Alert.
Adult/High School–In 1990, at the age of 21, Bialosky’s younger sister committed suicide. For the next two decades, the author was haunted by the unfathomable death and her inability to forgive herself for not having prevented it. As a way to understand, she studied suicide and wrote of her experience and her grief. Reading her sister’s journal and school writing assignments, she glimpsed aspects of an internal life that was not obvious to the family. Greek myths, and the works of Melville, Shakespeare, and Sylvia Plath provided insight. Research in the field of suicidology offered a perspective. Observations of her own child reminded her of life’s fragility and the limits of her ability to protect those she loves. Yet nothing could make sense of the incomprehensible decision her sister made to take her own life. Ultimately, the shame and disgrace that fill the void of the tragedy dissipate when experiences are shared in bereavement groups. The book is comprised of short passages that accumulate like shards from a shattered life that will never be made whole again. Bialosky, a gifted poet, crafts from them a mournful memoir that is reflective of both the vulnerability and the resilience of the human spirit. The book will have a profound impact on anyone affected by suicide. Older teens struggling for understanding in its aftermath will find solace in Bialosky’s experience. It will also serve as a useful research complement to teens studying classics such as Romeo and Juliet, Billy Budd, Moby Dick or The Bell Jar.–John Sexton, formerly at Westchester Library System, NY