Suicide. Seems like a taboo topic, doesn't it? Increasingly, teen reality-fiction books have addressed this issue as its paramount theme. In my original review below, I briefly compared two of such books: Jay Asher's Thirteen Reasons Why and Amy Zhang's Falling into Place.
I personally don't think that suicide should be such a taboo. Sometimes, we all fall into a low-zone. Some go to the extremes of falling into depression, while others fall into a mentality of being utterly reckless with their lives. Suicide is an issue that society needs to address. The scariest part is that there's no explicit symptoms of someone derailing into that path.
I read suicide-themed books because ultimately, they shine hope. There's a sort of beauty in the raw honesty of sadness. It's okay to be not okay, but what's important is that we remember to get back up. Suicide-themed books are saturated with beautiful, introspective monologues that put into words the bottled up grief or confusion that depressed individuals may have. And maybe, that's when everything clicks. I found my turning point in these books, maybe you could too.
The piece below was originally published on the jakartapost.com here
Suicide might be considered by some to be a taboo topic in literature. Yet surprisingly, teenage suicide sits alongside dystopic future societies, kingdoms and dragons, and romance-comedies as one of the young adult genre’s popular themes. Among the most popular is Jay Asher’s Thirteen Reasons Why, which centers on Clay Jensen when he received a parcel containing thirteen tapes supposedly from his crush, Hannah Baker, which would have been great, except that she committed suicide two weeks earlier. Each of the thirteen tapes dedicates a story to a person whom Hannah says contributed to her death, and are supposed to be passed on from person to person according to the order that the stories on the tapes are dedicated. So off goes Clay, trailing across the city while listening to the tapes, trying to understand what his role was in Hannah’s collapse.
Another popular novel revolves around Liz Emerson, in Amy Zhang’s Falling into Place, as she unfolds the secrets behind her suicidal car crash. The day she tries to die is the day that Liz’s physics class reviews Newton’s laws of motion, and the day Liz decides to employ the theories from her class in real life. But in the few moments before Liz closes her eyes, everything clicks into place and she understands: Things just aren’t that simple. Told by an omniscient and mysterious narrator, this riveting book utilizes the laws of physics as a metaphor to piece together the short and devastating life of Meridian High’s most-popular junior girl. Given, both books have their unique characteristics that prompt readers to inevitably fall in love with them. However, the valuation of them depends on the aspect of the book used as a value judgment. Oftentimes, it is a book’s writing style (and in turn, the narrator’s voice) and plot that are evaluated to determine its merit.
Thirteen Reasons Why’s most unique point lies in the concept behind its narration style. Jay Asher said that he got the inspiration for using pre-recorded tapes from the multimedia guides at museums. The fact that Hannah Baker seems to be speaking in the present despite being dead lends the book its eerie and mystifying spell. Unfortunately, its plot lacks depth. The reasons for Hannah’s suicide only seem to touch the surface; Asher seems to develop Clay’s character way more than Hannah’s background story, which would have contributed to a deeper understanding of Hannah’s emptiness.
In a way, Falling Into Place also shares Thirteen Reason Why’s “mysterious narrator” voice but follows a non-linear flashback narration format, jumping between past and present. At first, the reader might not be able to identify the voice of the narrator, but it is hinted at that the narrator is Liz’s younger, innocent self (although some speculate it is a childhood imaginary friend). Regardless, it is this writing style that opens readers to snapshots of Liz Emerson’s life that are responsible for all the accumulated guilt inside of her, and hence what prompted her to take her own life.
The disparate personalities of the two narrator voices are also instrumental in the book’s narration. The audience’s reaction to Hannah’s stories seems to be projected onto Clay through his commentaries while listening to the tapes. Clay’s quiet, open-eared personality causes him to appear as the ideal point of view from which to narrate the story. However, Clay’s impact on Hannah’s life is one of the novel’s major plot-holes because the connection was a bit of a stretch since we don’t know much about Hannah’s background story. We don’t get to hear about Hannah’s family, but Liz’s family background contributes greatly to her loneliness and the process of losing herself.
However, both authors should be applauded for their masterful writing styles and intricate weaving of plot connections. Amy Zhang clearly demonstrates her writing prowess through the rawness of emotions found in every sentence. Her book is a whirlwind of haunting desperation and pure aching sadness that presents, in its entirety, the grim side of high school life. Jay Asher also perfectly captures the sometimes-bitchy, sarcastically cynical and pained teenage voice of Hannah Baker.
If both books share another commonality besides the suicide theme, it is their paramount message that getting help is a two-way street: you have to reach out if you want to be helped. Simultaneously, suicide should not be shunned as a taboo, but an issue that exists—perhaps very near to you—and needs to be openly discussed and resolved.