Suicide and Depression in Young Adult Literature

Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library - Central LibraryRead Feed

Suicide and Depression in Young Adult Literature

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, suicide is the second leading cause of death in 15-24 year olds and 90% of those who died by suicide had an underlying mental illness such as depression. Suicide and depression can be difficult subjects to approach, but fortunately, many young adult novels dealing these topics have been written in recent years. Books may provide an excellent way to reach out to teens struggling with depression or dealing with it in their family or friends. The following is a list of young adult novels that take a thoughtful look at depression and suicide, dealing with the topics in caring, responsible ways.

The Memory of Light by Francisco Stork
Vicky Cruz should have died, but instead she is waking up in a hospital and her family is asking her questions she cannot answer. Why would someone with such a privileged background choose to end her life? What is wrong and why can’t she just push her way through it? Unable to guarantee that she wouldn’t make another attempt at suicide, Vicky defies the expectations of her father and decides to have an extended stay at the hospital. There she becomes friends with the other hospital patients: E.M. who is always angry, Gabriel, the philosophical, mysterious one, and Mona, an unpredictable burst of energy. Vicky feels like she has finally found people she can truly be herself around, who understand her. Through shared stories, honesty, and hard work with Dr. Desai, she is eventually pushed to reconsider her life and her belief that it is not worth living. However, she also knows she is going to have to go back to her regular life at some point, where she is less understood, and it scares her. Instead of focusing on the events leading up to suicide, The Memory of Light explores how we heal in the aftermath - about finding a little bit of light in all the darkness, and using it as a guiding force to continue even when it doesn’t seem worth it. Francisco Stork writes from his personal experience, which is evident based on the highly realistic, honest portrayal of depression found in this book.

I Was Here by Gayle Forman
When Cody’s best friend, Meg, commits suicide, she is beyond shocked. She never saw it coming. As she searches the past for warning signs, she questions whether she was a good friend at all. Perhaps she hadn’t asked the right questions or been a good enough listener. Tasked with traveling to Meg’s college town to pack up her belongings, Cody begins to unravel the mysteries surrounding the end of Meg’s life, realizing her friend had a lot of secrets. I Was Here is is about what happens to the people who are left behind when someone commits suicide. Ultimately, it is a redemptive story about finding a way to cope through loss and move forward.

My Heart and Other Black Holes by Jasmine Warga 
Sixteen-year-old Aysel wants to commit suicide but she’s not sure she has the strength to do it alone. So many things can go wrong. She enlists the help of a suicide partner via the website Suicide Partners, where she meets someone with the username FrozenRobot (aka Roman). Although they have nothing in common, they are surprised to find themselves taking something like comfort in each other’s company. As their plans to commit suicide begin to finalize, Aysel finds herself questioning her decision. Aysel, a physics nerd, also poses interesting philosophical questions about death; for instance: If energy cannot disappear but can only be transferred, what happens to our energy when we die? Another of the book’s strengths are its powerful descriptions of depression, which may be helpful for anyone trying to understand it from the outside.

The Last Time We Say Goodbye by Cynthia Hand
Lex is dealing with the aftermath of her younger brother Tyler’s unexpected suicide. Her family seems broken, and Lex can’t help but wonder if things would have been different if only she had answered Tyler’s last text. Friends and teachers try to lend support, but Lex cannot see how she will ever be happy again knowing she may have been able to prevent this tragedy. This devastating tale of survivor’s guilt shows us what happens when we reach out and find that others may be feeling the same way.

The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner
This is a book about many things - friendship, love, religion, family, abuse. It is also about depression. Three friends living in the confines of a small Tennessee town are trying to find their way through their senior year of high school. Lydia is a fashionista whose wit and popular blog will be a fast ticket out of small town life. Travis is a large guy with a heart of gold who is obsessed with a particular fantasy book series. He wears a dragon necklace and insists on carrying a staff with him wherever he goes. Then there is Dill, whose father, a preacher, has very publicly and dramatically fallen from grace. Dill is left to pick up the pieces in a very unforgiving place. With the unbearable knowledge that Lydia will soon be leaving their town for college constantly weighing on him, Dill is trying to find a reason to keep trying. The Serpent King is about finding the strength to see past our circumstances and imagine a better future, even when all we’ve known is tragedy. It is about that friend who doesn’t know what to do but keeps on trying even when we are unreachable, and finding hope in unexpected places. It may be impossible to read it without crying.