Sunday, May 27, 2012

Death and Despair--Again

It's time for another cheerful post about suicide, kids!

Seriously, I hope my kids never find this blog. It's not like they don't know what Drivers is about. They're too curious not to ask, especially the oldest. And I've certainly discussed the topic with my wife in front of them plenty of times.

But you know what I think? This is just off the top of my head, but suicide as a conversational topic is kind of like lice. (Ha!) If you've had lice, no one wants to hear about it. They don't want to know how you got rid of them or where you got them. They'd just as soon not have to think about tiny blood-sucking bugs laying eggs on hairs. Heck, just writing this makes my scalp itch!

People are usually more open to discussing the topic if they've had lice, treated lice, OR if they're not old enough to be aware of the social stigma.

Case in point, my oldest daughter caught lice at school a few years ago. We saw it pretty quickly, treated it, and the next day I called the (elementary) school to make them aware of the situation. (None of the rest of us got 'em, thank goodness.)

Kids are really good at sharing when it comes to lice. They hang their coats on top of each other, trade hats, rub their cute little heads together. If the school didn't do something about it fast, they'd have a major epidemic.

I was thinking they'd take the kids out one at a time, check for lice, call their parents, and send them home at the end of the day so no one would know who had lice and who didn't.

Instead, they sent the nurse to the classroom to inspect all the kids right there in their seats. The ones with lice were sent home right then, and everyone knew who they were. My daughter told the nurse that she'd just been treated for lice, so everyone knew she'd had them.

I was a little surprised. I thought the other kids would make fun of my girl, etc. etc. But it was no big deal. It was like having a cold as far as the kids, the teachers, and the school nurse were concerned.

But there was at least one other kid who confessed to having known they had lice, and their parents never called the school.

My point, in case you're missing it, is that suicide is also an unpleasant subject, but stigmatizing it and not talking about it doesn't make it go away. In fact, it can even make it worse.

Unlike lice, suicide is a very big deal. Schools have protocols to deal with suicides, because even though it's a psychological illness, it's sort of contagious. It's easy to unintentionally glorify suicide. *cough*thirteenreasonswhy*/cough* You don't dwell on methods or successes. But you don't pretend it doesn't exist, either. It's a hard thing for normal kids to confront. They need to talk about it, learn what causes it, know that thinking about or attempting suicide doesn't figuratively end a person's life.

This is totally not the post I intended to write. I was going to write about a book I just finished reading. It's Crash Into Me by Albert Borris, and it's the first book I've read that portrays suicidal teens in a realistic and potentially helpful way. Four suicidal teens meet online and decide to go on a road trip together. (This could happen. There are internet forums devoted to suicide.) They'll visit the graves of famous people who committed suicide and end the trip in Death Valley with their own deaths.

As far as plot goes, it's pretty slow. The only conflict is the uncertainty of what will really happen at the end of the trip. And the characters are all pretty flawed, so maybe you'll want them dead by the end. There are times when you think they might kill each other.

But I liked them. They act like kids. They drink and smoke and make asses of themselves, but we all make mistakes, don't we? The really good thing about this book is its directness. It doesn't beat around the bush, sugar coat, gloss over, or any other cliched idioms.

Life is hard, it says. Sometimes it sucks. Sometimes it hurts. Sometimes you want it to end. But it doesn't stay like that forever, and you never know what—or who—will happen to change it completely.

Don't ask me if it's a good book. If I'd written Crash Into Me it would have been completely different. Did I like it? Yes. Would I recommend it? That depends. It's not a book with broad appeal.

I would be far more likely to recommend it to a teenager who has thought about suicide than I would be to recommend any other novel I've read about the subject. It shows characters flawed enough to be relatable dealing with their problems in a way that's far enough from ideal to seem attainable, yet still positive.

I might even recommend it to relatives of someone who has committed suicide. It covers that as well, but not until the very end.

Crash Into Me gets a thumbs up for being realistic and not glorifying suicide. It also gets a high five for de-stigmatizing suicide. And if you're a high school English teacher and absolutely must make your kids read about suicide, shun Thirteen Reasons Why. Pick this one instead.

(Anyone read It's Kind of a Funny Story? It looks like it might be good.)

3 comments:

  1. I'm glad you broke up that heavy post with the lice story. I enjoyed Crash Into Me and have luckily never been personally touched by suicide.

    The lice ALMOST got me though. Years back my mom got them while on her job as a public health nurse. I was living at home then, during college, and me and my dad had so much fun teasing her about it. She was a good sport. And luckily got rid of them rather quickly.

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  2. I love how you're so passionate about this subject. I'm only passionate about useless things like immortality or near-omnipotence. Well I guess I could write a mean post on rounded female characters, but it still doesn't have the same ring.

    Never had lice.

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  3. I haven't read Nia Lacour's HOLD STILL, but I've heard it's also a great YA about suicide. It did win some awards and was censored (which is a sort of badge of honor, right?). I should read CRASH INTO ME. I met Albert Borris at a writing conference and he was extremely humble and approachable.

    Glad you liked it and very interested in your book.

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