Jennifer Hicks: Reading Between the Lines


New YA Novel Shines Light on Teen Mental Health

"All the Bright Places" Helps Teens Talk Mental Health

Less than a year ago I found myself at the saddest funeral I’ve ever attended. A neighbourhood boy, a friend of my son’s who’d been in his class for seven straight years until they’d drifted off to different middle schools, had died. The death of any fifteen year-old boy is tragic, but this was even more heartbreaking because he’d committed suicide after struggling for years with mental illness that he’d shared with nobody outside his family. His family was amazingly brave and open about sharing his story, in the hope that some good might come from opening this closed door.

Why We Need To Erase The Stigma Attached To Mental Illness

This boy was well-liked, and hundreds of friends came out for his funeral. Watching these newly minted teenagers walk warily into the synagogue, many wearing their mothers’ heels or their fathers’ ties, trying desperately to look mature while their faces looked younger and more vulnerable than when I’d first seen those same faces a decade earlier on their first day of kindergarten.  

We parents, I’m sure, looked equally vulnerable as we turned to one another and asked, “How do we know what our children are dealing with? How do we keep them safe and healthy? How do we explain this inexplicable loss?”

The rabbi comforted us all to an extent with her words explaining that Ben “didn’t want to end his life. He just wanted to end the pain.” But those words brought more questions for the children and the adults; where did this pain come from? Why did he not share it? Could something else have taken away his pain?

3 Books That Tackle Tough Teen Issues

Gone are the days when I could look up the answers to the pressing parenting questions I had. Google might be able to tell me how many hours of sleep the average preschooler needed, but it couldn’t tell me how it felt to be sinking into a depressive state. In my life, books become not only the place where I find answers, but also the springboards to the conversations I need to start. I've found a wonderful book on teen mental illness and suicide, and it's a good tool to start discussions.

Jennifer Niven’s new novel All the Bright Places provides an insight into teen mental health in a story that resonates with young adults. Just as The Fault in Our Star’s Hazel and Gus became the poster children for teens living with cancer, Atticus Finch and Violet Markey’s characters are sympathetic and real, and allow the reader to explore what it must be like for a teen living with mental illness and suicidal thoughts.

Teens will appreciate the realistic love story, the quick pace of the drama and the down-to-earth writing style. The fact that the author has included resource information on suicide prevention, diagnosing mental illness in teens, and survivors, indicates that she wants this to be more than just a story read and put back on the shelf. This is a story that needs to be shared and discussed.

All the Bright Places is  a book I’ll share with my teenage sons, and I’d encourage them to pass their copy on. If there’s one thing we can learn from not only this novel, but from the tragic stories of teen suicide, it is that there is help available, but that we all need to talk a little more and look out for one another.