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.
Valentine’s Day is around the corner, and I’m a big fan of giving books as gifts on the day of love. I can’t think of anything more romantic than the thought put into buying a perfectly chosen book…maybe even a novel signed by a favourite author or a first edition. But if you don’t have the $1.5 million that you’d need to pick up a first edition copy of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland for your Lewis Carroll fan, there are many other wonderful gifts you can find for the book lover in your life (or add to your own wish list!)
Library Card Phone Case $20 from Etsy
Tell your favourite sexy librarian that there’s more than just books you’d like to check out at the library. This adorable library card phone case is available for all models and may remind your sweetheart of the days you spent “studying” in the stacks.
Pride and Prejudice literary scarf $40 from Etsy
Please tell my Valentine that what I’d really love is this adorable heather scarf, screen printed with a most appropriate quote from Jane Austen, “I declare after all that there is no enjoyment like reading!...When I have a house of my own, I shall be miserable if I have not an excellent library.”
New Book Scented Candle $25 from Amazon
There’s nothing like that fresh smell when you open a brand new book, is there? Well actually there is, and it’s been captured in this candle. Lighting this candle will unleash the scents of lignin paper, ambered glue and Indian ink…and with 60 hours of burning time, it can get you through many a cold, winter’s night of reading.
To Kill A Mockingbird classic book brooch $20 from House of Ismay
Here’s another gift idea that’s making it on to my own most-wanted list. It’s a bird-shaped brooch made from original pages of Harper Lee’s masterpiece, To Kill a Mockingbird. With last week’s announcement of a sequel to one of the greatest novels of the 20th century, gift this little piece of jewelry with the original book for a perfect refresher (also available is a pig brooch made from pages of Charlotte’s Web, and a whale with the words of Moby Dick).
Jane Austen Bandages$6.80 from Amazon
Is your book-loving Valentine prone to paper cuts from turning all those pages? Hook a reader up with these Jane Austen plasters. Cuts are bound to heal quicker than the broken hearts in one of her novels, and they’ll look adorable while they’re healing.
Maybe you’d like to challenge your book lover to a friendly card game. Check out Notable Novelists and test one another’s knowledge of last century’s top writers. The deck doesn’t come with instructions for a “strip poker” version of the game, but on February 14th, you can break a few rules.
Whether you celebrate like Romeo and Juliet, or like Christian Grey and Anastasia Steele, whether you curl up with your Valentine, or with a good book…have a lovely day!
The Braverman clan sat down to their last meal together last week, and if (like me) you’re already missing the TV series Parenthood since its finale after six wonderful family-filled seasons, I have a suggestion for you. In fact, I have five.
These books all capture the drama, humour, love, and emotional rawness that is family:
1. This Is Where I Leave You…or anything by Jonathan Tropper
“It would be a terrible mistake to go through life thinking that people are the sum total of what you see.”
The death of Judd Foxman’s father is the first time the entire family has reunited in years, and the seven days of sitting shiva allows them to explore the complicated and hilarious relationships between parents, siblings and spouses. You may have seen the 2014 film adaptation, but the book is even better.
2. The House We Grew Up In, Lisa Jewell
"I love other people's families," he said. "They always make me feel better about my own.”
Lisa Jewell's story covers the lives of a seemingly idyllic English family over 20 years. Lorelei Bird's attempts to be the perfect mother appear thwarted when she realizes that as adults all of her "birds" have left the nest and rarely return to their beloved family home. Told in flashbacks and from multiple points of view, the tale unfolds so that the reader understands how they got to this point.
3. A Spool of Blue Thread, Anne Tyler
Just as the home in Parenthood played such a central part in the series, the lovingly hand-crafted house where the Whitshank family resides becomes its own character, hosting four generations until “the filmy-skinned ghosts frolicked and danced on the porch with nobody left to watch.” This novel is full of imperfect family members, stumbling and bumbling through their relationships. Flashing back and forth between four generations of a Baltimore area family, readers will want to shake some of these characters and hug others, but in the end you'll be glad of the time you spent with them.
4. A Thousand Acres, Jane Smiley
“...I had been with my father so constantly for so long that I knew less and less about him with every passing year. Every meaningful image was jumbled together with the countless moments of our daily life defeating my efforts to gain some perspective.”
An interesting interpretation of the King Lear story (and honestly, who dished family drama better than William Shakespeare?!), told against the backdrop of Iowa farm life in the late 70s, and narrated by the modern-day fill-in for Lear’s eldest daughter, Goneril. This Pulitzer Prize winning novel was published almost a quarter century ago, but is still fresh and relevant today.
5. The Prince of Tides, Pat Conroy
"My wound is geography. It is also my anchorage, my port of call.”
If you’re a fan of Parenthood, you know that the San Francisco Bay area plays an important role in the story. Pat Conroy’s literature is critically rooted in the lowlands of South Carolina in the same way. The geography is almost a character in and of itself, and the same story would play out completely in a different way, set in a different locale. This tragedy is darker than Parenthood, but the family bonds and dynamics are reminiscent of the series.
And because I think the soundtrack was as important to Parenthood as the locale, the characters and the writing, here’s a playlist with eleven of my favourite “Tearjerkers from Parenthood.”
If I Had a Boat, Lyle Lovett
Here, Now, by Andrew Simple
Always You, Ingrid Michelson
Lights, Josh Ritter
Desire, Ryan Adams
Hard Times Come Again No More, Brett Dennen
You Are the Best Thing, Ray LaMontagne
Naked As We Came, Iron & Wine
Embraceable You, Jimmy Scott
Let It Be Me, Ray LaMontagne
Forever Young, by Rhiannon Giddens & Iron & Wine (from the series finale)
Image Source: NBC
Read more from Jennifer Hicks here at YummyMummyClub.ca on her new culture and literature blog, Reading Between the Lines.