I have no idea who or what service recommended to me Abby Fabiaschi’s I Liked My Life and Jennifer Niven’s All the Bright Places. I had them both on hold at the library and both became available at the same time. Both books are also about suicide, so I have been spending a lot of time with the subject over the last 10 days. As someone who lost his father to suicide, I went through the same set of emotions that the principal characters in these two books went through: Anger at the selfish act, and then sadness that I wasn’t enough to keep him from committing it.
Ultimately, I appreciated the overriding theme in both of these books: People don’t commit suicide out of disappointment in others, but out of an inescapable disappointment or sadness with their own lives. Both books treated suicide exactly as it should be treated: As an act that doesn’t feel like a choice for its victim. In other words, suicide is no one’s fault.
Fabiaschi’s approach, however, was much more sophisticated. I thought the premise of the book might lend itself to a lot of hokiness — something akin to a Mitch Album suicide boook — but Fabiaschi is a strong, sure-handed writer and she handled it beautifully. The book is a similar in premise to Alice Sebold’s Lovely Bones, except that the dead person is not trying to help those who are still alive solve a murder. She’s trying to help her husband and daughter move on without her.
My mood is often shaped by what I am reading, and I found myself drinking a lot of wine and grief-eating while reading I Liked My Life. I felt this book hard. I found myself feeling sympathetic to the husband, the teenage daughter, and the wife/mother who killed herself, because all of their feelings are valid and all three were terrifically drawn characters. What I appreciated most about I Liked My Life, however, is how Fabiaschi is able to find some hope in the act, not just for her living characters, but there’s also a sense of relief for the woman who killed herself. It’s a fantastic novel — funny, affecting, and emotionally rewarding. It’s a book with a lot of feelings, but it’s not a sad book, exactly.
Jennifer Niven’s All the Bright Places — based on the author’s own experiences of finding the body of her boyfriend after he’d killed himself — rings true in a lot of ways, too, but there was something about its approach to suicide that didn’t sit well with me. I am not going to say that it romanticized the act, exactly, but it didn’t not romanticize it, either. The book is described as Fault in Our Stars crossed with Eleanor and Park, and I think that’s what ultimately drew me to it. The love story is similar to those books, but whereas in Fault in Our Stars, the dude died of a terminal disease, here suicide is similarly treated as inevitable, almost as though it, too, is a terminal disease. And maybe it is. But a teenager reading All the Bright Places (it’s a YA novel) might take away the wrong message, that killing himself will only strengthen his girlfriend’s love for him. There’s even a 13 Reasons why element to the novel, only instead of leaving behind tapes casting blame for a character’s suicide, this guy leaves behind what is essentially a scavenger hunt of grief porn. This is the kind of book that would probably leave a 15 year old wracked with sobs, but I found the characters to be thinly drawn, quirky vessels for mental disease. And while I do understand why suicide might be treated like a terminal disease for some, I guess I found it unsettling that so little effort was taken to treat the underlying depression.
I guess what I’m saying is: It’s a really sad book, but it’s not a particularly mature one. However, it’s being made into a movie starring Elle Fanning, and it’s going to do gangbusters with moody teen audiences. Don’t be surprised if it doesn’t also stir some controversies similar to the issues surrounding 13 Reasons Why.
Also, after this, I’m going to spend more time with genre fiction for a while.