The Best YA Novels About Suicide
Jun 14th, 2012 by Liza Wiemer

The idea to continue writing blog posts with lists of “The Best YA Novels About ________” came from the fabulous Stacy at http://girlsinthestacks.com/  She had mentioned to me that she liked the post The Best MG/YA Novels About Death, Dying, or Those Left Behind, and as a (former) librarian, she found these lists helpful. Her comment inspired me to continue, and I hope to complete one at least once a month.

For this month, I reviewed my Goodreads list and realized I had read quite a few YA novels on suicide. Suicide is in the news every day, but it’s not something people openly talk about. My life was touched by suicide when my favorite babysitter killed herself. I was probably around eight. Until this day, that experience has had a profound influence on me. (You can read my post about it here: http://www.whorublog.com/?p=371 )

The BEST YA Novels About Suicide:

Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher

On top is Jay Asher’s Thirteen Reasons Why. Here’s my review as posted on Goodreads: “I renewed this book from the library because I had a few false starts. Once I got rolling, I couldn’t put it down. Boy, this was a heartbreaker. Suicide is a tragedy that sticks with you forever, and my life has been touched by it. I lost my favorite babysitter to suicide. She was a beautiful high school student and every time she came over we had the best time together doing art projects, going to the park, baking. One day she didn’t show up, because a few hours before she locked herself in the garage and turned the car on. She died of carbon monoxide poisoning. I never knew why she killed herself and, after all these years, I still think about her and wonder. Thirteen Reasons Why shows how a teen’s life can go spiraling out of control. I wonder if this book had been available years ago if perhaps it would have been a deterrent, perhaps saving my babysitter’s life. I know there’s a lot of controversy going around Twitter right now over the Wall Street Journal article about “dark” YA novels, but they have an important place. I bet Thirteen Reasons Why has already saved some lives and will continue to do so in the future. Dark, painful, heartbreaking – but nevertheless IMPORTANT.”

Impulse and Perfect by Ellen Hopkins, two books written in verse, are incredibly powerful and touch on suicide in a way that will

Impulse by Ellen Hopkins

shake readers to the core. Here’s my reviews from Goodreads: I received the ARC of Perfect, the second Impulse book, at the BEA but didn’t want to read it until I read Impulse. So glad I started with Impulse. Impulse is a novel that will grab you by the neck of your shirt and pull you right into the pages. You’ll feel for the characters, so much so that it’s sometimes hard not to believe that the characters aren’t real. Impulse tells the story of Conner, Vanessa, and Tony, three very different people who tried to kill themselves in different ways and ended up at Aspen Springs, an inpatient treatment center. Their lives intertwine and you learn what has led them to perform such desperate and painful acts to attempting suicide. Even though Ellen Hopkins novel is fiction, she draws from real life experiences and brings an intense, high level of authenticity to the voice of each character. I have known YAs who have suffered because of acts described in this novel, and as we watch the healing of some and the downward spiral of another, this book makes you want to be vigilant when it comes to those you know around you suffering, perhaps silently. Impulse is a warning. Impulse is an opportunity. Keep your ears, eyes, and hearts open. No one should find themselves in such a deep, dark hole that he can’t climb out and get help and/or recognize when a friend needs help. An intense, must read!

Perfect by Ellen Hopkins

Although Perfect doesn’t focus on suicide, it definitely addresses the issue and should be read after Impulse. Here’s my Goodreads review of Perfect:

Read the ARC of Perfect, which I received at the BEA. Perfect is the second novel or companion novel to Impulse. Where Impulse deals with issues of suicide, Perfect deals with YAs obsession with perfecting their bodies or the need to be “perfect” students, athletes, daughters, sons, human beings – an impossible task. Yet, how many people do we know strive for perfection? Let this novel be a warning to those who take it too far.
This book takes place during the same time period that Impulse does, but from the perspective of Conner’s sister Cara, Conner’s ex-girlfriend Kendra, Sean, Cara’s boyfriend, and Andre, Kendra’s sister’s boyfriend. Four different stories about how pressure from parents and pressure from oneself can have dire consequences. Insightful and painful, another must-read by Ellen Hopkins.

Forget You by Jennifer Echols is intense, well-written novel addressing the attempted suicide of a parent. Here’s Goodreads review:

Forget You by Jennifer Echols

Forget You will stay with you long after you turn the last page.  I couldn’t put this novel down and finished it in one sitting. Jennifer Echols tackles some big issues like attempted suicide, mental illness, low self-esteem, sex, love, respect, and friendship. In Forget You, Zoey’s mother has a nervous breakdown and attempts suicide. The impact it has on Zoey leads to some intense, painful impulsive decisions.  She goes through a tough personal journey and, at times, it is painful to “see” her suffer & make poor choices.  But isn’t that what life is all about sometimes?  This is precisely why this novel is so valuable for young adults.  One of the most difficult aspects of this novel is watching the MC stick with a guy who she thinks is a great boyfriend, but is really a jerk.  A valuable portrayal that I hope will help prevent other girls from making the same poor choices & help them look for those great guys out there with caring, loving hearts.

Mercy Lily by Lisa Albert

Mercy Lily by Lisa Albert is a novel I listed in “The Best Novels About Death, Dying, or Those Left Behind.” But I also am including it here because it talks about assisted suicide. Here’s my Goodreads review: “Bold. Daring. Lisa Albert had a lot of guts to write this book for young adults, and for that I deeply admire her. Death is a hard enough subject for people to discuss, but to add in assisted suicide takes a fortitude and belief in oneself that is tough-as-nails underneath a soft, caring heart. The story is about a girl named Lily who cares for her sickly veterinarian mother who unfortunately is stricken with MS. Conventional medicine had brought her no relief, so she opts for alternatives including BVT, having bees sting her in order to control the pain brought on by MS. I personally am not fond of bees, so it took me awhile to become “desensitized” to the descriptions. But I stayed with it.

I am certain there are people who will see this novel as pro-assisted suicide/pro-alternative medicine. Maybe. I saw this novel as presenting a different side to a very controversial issue. An important side that people face every day. I’ve never walked in these shoes, but reading MERCY LILY gave me a small glimpse into that world and made me think about my own beliefs connected with my own faith. It’s a conclusion worth looking at. Lisa Albert handled these difficult circumstances with grace and dignity, whether or not the reader would agree or disagree with the choice Lily and her mother made.
This YA novel should be read by high school or college ethics classes. Definitely recommend.”

Waiting by Carol Lynch Williams

Waiting by Carol Lynch Williams is a novel I read after the original posting. I added it on June 28, 2012. Here’s my Goodreads review:
I am wide awake at 1:40 AM writing this review. Because this begs to be done NOW!
Waiting left me speechless. Yes, I knew before I started reading that it was about a beloved brother who had died and how his death impacted his entire family – his mother, father, and sister. But wow. This novel will break your heart because you feel the heartbreak of London, Zach’s sister and the narrator, who feels so much guilt that it jumps off the page. The story is told in verse, sometimes quite detailed, sometimes sparse, but always packing a load of emotion and depth and drama that keeps the story moving forward quickly.
I was deeply touched by the wonderful friends who came to London’s rescue, making sure she knows she’s loved and cherished and alive. I appreciated each one of them, got a sense of their personalities and flaws. In many ways, they were much wiser than some of the adults, particularly London’s mother who is so damaged, so vicious in her pain, that she has not an ounce of kindness or love to give to London. London’s father also is broken, but less so, since he relies on faith to get him through every difficult waking minute.
My only suggestion would be to read this during the day, because here I am, exhausted, unable to sleep because I can’t stop thinking about these characters.
I highly recommend this novel for all, but especially to librarians and teachers and those who might feel a loved one is at risk with depression. This really shows the impact a suicide has on those left behind, which is one of this novel’s greatest strengths. It will definitely appeal to Ellen Hopkins fans who have read Impulse.
This is an important novel. Don’t miss it.

Although I have NOT read Saving June, it has received excellent reviews. Here’s the Goodreads link: http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/10947600-saving-june

In addition to my list above, I recommend looking at YA Bookshelf’s Suggested Reading here: http://www.yabookshelf.com/2010/12/suicide-awareness-week-wrap-up/ I have read several novels on her list and definitely endorse reading them: 1. Hate List by Jennifer Brown – see my interview with Jennifer here: http://www.whorublog.com/?p=445 2. Bruiser by Neal Schusterman 3. Looking for Alaska by John Green and 4. Forbidden by Tabitha Suzuma

Do you have any to add? Would love to include your best YA novels about suicide. Just leave the title and a link to a review if you have one in the comments.



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