Title: Suicide Notes
Author: Michael Thomas Ford
Buy Link: Amazon.com (Second Edition)
Length: Novel (304 pages)
Genre: YA, LGBTQ
Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5
A guest review by Leslie
>>>NB: This review contains spoilers<<<
I’m not crazy. I don’t see what the big deal is about what happened. But apparently someone does think it’s a big deal because here I am. I bet it was my mother. She always overreacts.
Fifteen-year-old Jeff wakes up on New Year’s Day to find himself in the hospital. Make that the psychiatric ward. With the nutjobs. Clearly, this is all a huge mistake. Forget about the bandages on his wrists and the notes on his chart. Forget about his problems with his best friend, Allie, and her boyfriend, Burke. Jeff’s perfectly fine, perfectly normal, not like the other kids in the hospital with him. Now they’ve got problems. But a funny thing happens as his forty-five-day sentence drags on—the crazies start to seem less crazy.
Compelling, witty, and refreshingly real, Suicide Notes is a darkly humorous novel from award-winning author Michael Thomas Ford that examines that fuzzy line between “normal” and the rest of us.
The fact that this review is posted on this site is a spoiler. As noted in the blurb, Jeff has attempted suicide and has ended up in psych hospital. The story is written as a diary (from his first person POV) and each chapter is one day. What motivated Jeff to try to kill himself is not revealed until about the two-thirds point of the book but if you read any online reviews, or put two and two together about Jessewave’s site, you can figure it out: he’s gay. Even knowing that, I’d still recommend this book because it has a lot more story and is much more interesting than “gay kid tries unsuccessfully to kill himself and manages to get his life back on track” which some people might assume is the takeaway synopsis of the story.
A reader recommended this book to Wave who recommended it to me. Because I like young adult books, naturally I was intrigued and quickly purchased the audio version (no ebook available, unfortunately). Apparently, Michael Thomas Ford is a very popular and prolific author of both adult and YA books. I must be living under a rock because he was totally off my radar screen, but now that I’ve read (listened to) Suicide Notes, I’ll definitely be searching out other titles by this author.
As I said, Suicide Notes is written as a diary, with each chapter representing one day in Jeff’s 45 day admission (he might call it incarceration) to an inpatient therapeutic program. He doesn’t want to be there, he thinks he’s sane, and he throws up every defensive wall he can possibly dream up to keep his psychiatrist from figuring out what is really going on. Bits and pieces of information are revealed gradually, just as Jeff would have experienced them in real life. In fact, it wasn’t until about the fourth or fifth chapter that we even find out his name. The narrative builds slowly but picks up steam as Jeff finally lets his guard down and expresses his true feelings—some to other patients in the hospital, some to his therapist, and some only to us, the readers. Incidents that occur in the hospital—a few of which other reviewers have questioned as to whether they are ethical or realistic—also help to spur his revelations.
Given the subject matter, you might think this book is depressing, but it’s not. Jeff is a great narrator, by turns funny, sarcastic, and insightful and manages to keep the tone upbeat, despite the seriousness of the topic. There are some really great lines, including “Sweet Jesus Christ on a biscuit!” and Jeff musing that not masturbating would be akin to owning the coolest video game in the world and not playing it.
Some have criticized the book, saying that gay youth suicide is a cliché and it is time to move on. But the fact is, suicide is the third leading cause of death among people ages 15-19 (behind unintentional injury and homicide) and suicide affects LGBTQ youth disproportionately. Given that, I think a frank and honest discussion of the issue, with an engaging narrative to keep readers interested, is a useful addition to the literature.
All in all, I am glad I read this book. I do think it is of particular interest to me since my own daughter has struggled with depression for the past six years (and, coincidentally, came out to us when she was 15, same age as Jeff). But even without a personal connection, I think that anyone who likes stories about LGBTQ youth would find this a worthwhile read. Recommended.