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Category Archives: Contemporary fiction

Thoughts on 13 Reasons Why – the Show’s Critics

Netflix's_13_Reasons_Why_title_screen
I’ve just finished watching Netflix’s 13 Reasons Why yesterday (read my blog post on the book), and I’ve seen posts (like Fox News, USAToday, etc.) going around warning people about watching this show and how it glorifies suicide, especially since the show depicted Hannah’s suicide in real time.

I am not a mental health or other professional who deals with suicide and suicide prevention, but I want to share why I disagree with these posts as a teen librarian and a reader.

*SPOILERS AHEAD*

First, I don’t think this show OR the book argue for suicide as a choice. Obviously, 13 Reasons Why stands for Hannah’s 13 reasons why she chose to go through with her act of suicide. As the audience hears these reasons, told by Hannah, about her peers and the things they’ve done to hurt her and watches them play out in the past and in the present day, the real focus is how a series of events can affect a person to be pushed so far into depression, isolation, and a desperate desire to find any way to stop the pain. This person can easily feel like they have no self-worth through this process and that the only way out–to make it stop–is to stop living.

“Suicide is the third leading cause of death for 10-24 year olds in the US…As an adolescent, [teens] are a part of a particularly vulnerable group that can encounter pressure from [their] family and peer groups. Some problems [they] may face include family breakdown, sexuality, body imagery (anorexia, bulimia, obesity), and social, school, and peer pressures. These problems could lead to a state of depression, which is the most common cause of suicide” (Teen Health & Wellness, “Suicide”).

Instead of arguing that this is a validated way out, the lessons drawn from the show are really how having a friend, someone to talk to who really cares and listens, can make a difference in the life of a person who is thinking about suicide.

“When people talk about suicide, listen, as it can be a cry for help” (Teen Health & Wellness, “Suicide”).

The show also reflects the reverberations of suicide on other people around them (called “survivors”) through Alex’s choice to shoot himself, which illustrates that a person thinking about suicide and their choice DOES affect more than themselves, sometimes causing a chain effect of other suicides or attempted suicides.

Suicide prevention training tells you to notice the people around you, if someone has changed a physical appearance drastically or given away their possessions or withdrawn from things. If they mention suicide or have a fascination with death. How your interest can really make a difference in this person’s decision to act.

The show encourages teens to recognize the effects their behaviors and words can have on others and take responsibility for those actions. Sure, Hannah made the decision and act of suicide, but each of her Reasons gave her pain and so much that she finally felt she couldn’t live with it. You never know how someone else is feeling and how something you did negatively can affect them. It’s better to have a positive impact than leave a possibility of hurt.

Also, I want to state here that the point is not that teens being kind or friendly can save someone who is having suicidal thoughts. It’s that noticing someone having suicidal thoughts and taking the step to get them help that can save them. I don’t think this help always has to come from a mental health professional for teens, especially, because “every 100 minutes” a teen is thinking about acts of suicide (Teen Health & Wellness, “Suicide”). However, the more powerful, meaningful, and impactful connections a teen has to, say, parents, friends, and other positive associations who are willing to listen to the teen’s feelings and be there for them can make a difference in that teen’s decisions on whether to attempt suicide or find suicide as an option. It’s not simply being kind. Teens already might have a distrust of other adults or people whom they are not familiar with saying they can help them. It is that much more important to have someone a teen trusts to be there for them and listen enough to maybe stay with them while they do seek the professional help they might need.

Finally, the show adds a must-watch final statement after the finale called “13 Reasons Why: Beyond the Reasons” that goes in-depth about the show, their efforts, and has mental health professionals talking about suicide and how the viewer can help others who might be in this situation and gives resources if they themselves feel this way. 

Don’t just judge this book and series off posts intending to incite anger or censor viewership. Take the chance to learn about empathy and what teens or other people might be experiencing that you might never see. See their world through their eyes and make it better and hopefully recognize these signs in others. (However, if you are a survivor of suicide or have been assaulted or have ever self-harmed or might experience trauma from the graphic scenes, please do use your own judgment whether to watch or not!)

 

For more information on suicide and suicide prevention, see these resources:

National Institute for Mental Health

National Suicide Prevention Hotline

Project Semicolon

Society for the Prevention of Teen Suicide

American Psychological Association’s “7 Essential Steps Parents Can Take to Prevent Teen Suicide

 

Works Cited:

“Suicide.” Teen Health and Wellness, Rosen Publishing, October 2016, www.teenhealthandwellness.com/article/316/suicide. Accessed 19 Apr. 2017.

 

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The Sun Is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon

coverThe Sun Is Also a Star

A 2017 Michael L. Printz Honor Book and highlights Nicola Yoon as the John Steptoe New Talent Award!

Natasha refuses to give up on the day her family is supposed to be deported to Jamaica due to her father’s one DUI, and though she’s been trying to convince immigration officers for months, she’s still trying. Natasha believes in science, in logic, in Observable Facts. She wants to stay in the US and go to college, not leave the only life she’s ever known just because her father made one mistake and her family is undocumented. When the security guard at the immigration office makes her five minutes late for her appointment and she’s missed it, another man gives her a chance, sending her to an appointment with a lawyer to hear of her case. On the way there, she meets Daniel…

Daniel has always been overshadowed by his older brother Charlie, until now when he’s been suspended from college for awhile. His Korean American parents used to hold his brother up as a measurement to gauge how good Daniel was, and now Daniel has an interview for Yale to live up to his family’s expectations and be a doctor. As he’s making his way into the city, his train conductor forces everyone off the train to “go find God” and Daniel decides to make the most of it. When he gets off, he notices a stream of people making their way around a girl, Natasha, on the sidewalk who is completely oblivious and zoned out to her headphones. Daniel follows her into a record store and intervenes in a conflict with her ex-boyfriend and his new girlfriend who is caught shoplifting. When he saves her life a few minutes later, they start and make a deal. Since Natasha believes in science and Daniel is a romantic poet, he challenges her that he can make her fall in love with him scientifically.

This deal results in one day that changes their perceptions, forces them to confront things they never imagined and ultimately shows how powerful love can be if only in a short time and how it can change the future.

I could read this book over and over again! The minute I read it I knew it was something special and not just because of the diversity of the main characters (though that is wonderful) and the story. Nicola Yoon writes beautifully and with such feeling for the backgrounds and possibilities of even the minor characters and shows how the universe around Natasha and Daniel relates into the past and future. I’ve been pushing this book at everyone possible because it really stays with you and is a eye-opening glimpse at the lives of this Korean American family and undocumented immigrant families like Natasha’s. Perfect for fans of Eleanor & Park and for high school age teens and adults.

 
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Posted by on March 30, 2017 in Contemporary fiction, Romance, Young Adult/Teen

 

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All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven

all the bright places by jennifer nivenAll the Bright Places

Atop their school’s bell tower, the notorious freak (so termed by his peers) Theodore Finch rescues Violet Markey who has frozen on the ledge from thinking about what it would be like to jump off the bell tower. Once Violet is safe, however, the school gathers and it is Violet who Finch lets get credited as a hero for talking the unpredictable, violent Finch from his latest stunt. In an assigned class project, Finch volunteers to partner with Violet where they must visit natural wonders of their state of Indiana and write about their experiences. Finch has another idea though and makes the assignment more about wandering, life, and finding the unexpected and under-appreciated areas of their state.

Pre-Finch Violet is still suffering the effects of her sister Eleanor’s unexpected death in a car accident nine months before, and everyone keeps giving her excuses or “extenuating circumstances” for not being normal. She does nothing besides go to school and go home. She doesn’t write, and before Eleanor’s death, she and Eleanor used to be well-known for their website EleanorandViolet.com with its conflicting opinions on boys, fashion, life etc.

On the other hand, Finch is the eldest boy in his broken family who lives with his exhausted and downtrodden mother; an older sister Kate who has terrible luck with boys, secretly smokes, and pretends to be Finch’s mother; and younger sister Decca who is also troubled but only eight. His father who also has anger, physical and alcohol abuse issues, recently divorced from his mother and has a new family, a wife with a bright house and her son Josh Raymond (who may or may not actually be Finch’s half-brother). Most of his father’s wrath used to be directed towards Finch who seems to be a constant disappointment. Add in his issues at school with violence and bullying and limited number of friends, and Finch with his episodes of mental illness (that is later revealed to be bipolar disorder).

When Finch and Violet start working on their project, Violet discovers the real Finch, a curious, hopeful, and gregarious boy who loves music and poetry and finding beauty in the world. Slowly, they fall in love, and Violet’s relationship with Finch puts her in compromising positions with her family and friends. As Violet’s world opens once more because of Finch’s influence, Finch’s struggle grows harder as his love for Violet becomes his only hope and yet a heavier burden. Two broken and unforgettable teens forge a deep connection in love and loss that leads them both to brighter places.

I listened to this on audio and the audiobook was fantastic! So, if you can’t read it in print, know that the audiobook narrators give a real teen voice to Violet and Theo and are energetic, fun, and truthful to the characters. I will find this book hard to recommend to most readers, but it is beautifully written and the characters will stay with you. Jennifer Niven writes with a gentle but persuasive and real touch about the heavy topics of death, suicide, and mental illness. This is a book like Thirteen Reasons Why or The Messenger I would suggest for teens to read because it’s a book that is meaningful and real but ugly, messy, and carries a message about life that will stay with them when they witness or live through bad experiences in their own lives. It’s a book to read if you’ve faced or been affected by mental illness, suicide, death/grief, or abuse. And please don’t think this book is terribly depressing. Just like life there are highs and lows and this deals with them so honestly…there is hope because just like Theodore Finch finds — the bright places (or the smallest things) can give you hope during the darkness.

To make your own bright places like Finch and Violet, make a post-it wall of everything that makes you happy or hopeful or you think is beautiful. Share your post-it wall on Twitter or Instagram with #allthebrightplaces. If you need help/are suffering a crisis, here are some resources that are readily available to help you. The first step is admitting that something might be wrong. If you want to learn more about mental health or helping others in crisis, go here. And remember, you are not alone. There is always someone who will miss you.

 
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Posted by on March 9, 2017 in Contemporary fiction, Romance, Young Adult/Teen

 

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Jesse’s Girl and Defending Taylor by Miranda Kenneally

16045315Jesse’s Girl

For her senior year shadow day (career day), musician Maya Henry gets to shadow country teen heartthrob Jesse Scott, winner of three Grammy’s. For a girl who loves eighties rock and plays a killer guitar, a country boy singer with an attitude is pretty far from her goals, and since Maya just lost her kind-of boyfriend, her band, and her dreams of winning a nationwide music competition, she’s reluctant to try anything with her broken heart. Jesse too is hesitant to make a friend because as a star, most girls try to take advantage of his fame that has resulted in embarrassing situations in the past. However, despite their misgivings, they discover their make each other better. A reluctant friendship turns into best friends and more until neither Jesse nor Maya really remember what life felt like without the other.

22846823Defending Taylor

When Taylor Lukens makes one mistake that gets her kicked out of her private school and forced to go to the local high school, everything she’s worked for has been destroyed. She was on track to be valedictorian, soccer team captain, president of the debate team…but when she’s accused of taking drugs, not only her reputation is ruined but also that of her senator father who is running for re-election. As Taylor faces pressure at her new school, she also feels like her family is against her. The only one she feels like she might be able to trust is her older brother’s best friend, Ezra, but he’s also betrayed her in the past…

One thing I love about Miranda Kenneally’s books is that she writes about something she’s learned about life so that teens can learn from it and try to apply it to their own lives. Make sure you read her acknowledgements. They show you the writer behind the page, and one that has hopes and dreams and ups and downs as an adult that is very relateable as a teen. So often, I think teens feel that adults have everything figured out at least with their identities and goals, but often it takes a lifetime to understand. Jesse’s Girl was one of my favorite Miranda Kenneally books, possibly due to the author’s past desire to be a musician. The reader can really pick up on the passion for music.

Note: Sexual situations, language, drug abuse

 
 

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This Is Where It Ends by Marieke Nijkamp

This Is Where It Ends24529123

At a high school in Opportunity, Alabama, the educational day starts normally with an assembly. The perspectives of four teens describe events on this seemingly run-of-the-mill day, but terror strikes as a student begins a shooting spree.

  • Claire was excused from assembly for track practice. When she hears gunshots, none of the track team are able to call for help as their phones are locked back at school. She and her best friend Chris must run for help from the security guard. When they find the security guard dead, they continue running to attempt to find someone who can help and find the police because Claire knows that if she’s trying to do something, she’s attempting to save her little brother who is trapped.
  • Tomas and his best friend Fareed are breaking into the principal’s office to check their permanent records. When they notice no one returning from the assembly and hear gunshots, they are the only few left who can help. They call the police, but Tomas knows he cannot leave his sister to die.
  • Autumn listens to the principal’s speech with her girlfriend Sylv, Tomas’s twin sister, who is nervous about Autumn’s brother returning to school that day. When Tyler shows up, he’s the gunman and she knows he’s looking for them both…

What follows is a heart wrenching, unforgettable story of bravery, love, and hope in the face of a terrible, unthinkable tragedy. A tribute to the loss of those at Columbine, Newtown, and others is delivered in this straightforward novel that will have your heart ripped out and your mind wondering why these devastating events still occur. This cover is so artfully done and representative of this novel. It captures and holds your attention. Another plus with this novel is the diversity of the students and is perfect for #WeNeedDiverseBooks.

Note: This book is exceedingly well-written for the subject and while true to account is not described as graphically, and suitable for a some mature younger readers.

 
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Posted by on December 27, 2016 in Contemporary fiction, Young Adult/Teen

 

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