In typical neurotic fashion, I began having existential crises around age 6. This meant that, during my teenaged years, I thought a lot about death. Not necessarily in a suicidal sense, but with a growing acceptance that one day I, and everyone that I loved, would cease to exist on this earth. Heavy thoughts that didn’t necessarily mix well with the hormonal changes of puberty. Even though I was grappling with these thoughts, I wasn’t really sure where I could turn with them, whether they could be shared without judgment. I wish the novels collected here had been around when I was younger; whether or not they’d have eased my anxiety, they would at least have shown me I wasn’t alone in my thoughts.
What makes them incredible is the way they deal with death in all of its forms.We hear the stories of those left behind, and we also get inside the heads of characters struggling with the decision to either take their own life, or try to find meaning in the world. Death is neither glamorized nor necessarily railed against. It just is, and we watch as characters try to come to terms with that. (A fairly obvious trigger warning: many of the following novels deal with suicide, whether attempted, contemplated, or achieved. )
I Was Here, by Gayle Forman
Cody is shocked when her best friend, Meg, commits suicide in a motel room soon after leaving for college. While collecting Meg’s things, Cody finds an encrypted file on her computer that leads her to a suicide chatroom Meg posted on before taking her own life. I Was Here presses upon readers the idea that there isn’t a certain “type” of person who contemplates or commits suicide. Instead, it’s an issue that can torment those we least expect, showing that those who put up the bravest front sometimes hide a very dark secret.
My Heart and Other Black Holes, by Jasmine Warga
Aysel wants to kill herself, but doesn’t think she can go through with it alone. Then she meets Roman in a suicide chatroom, and they agree to be “suicide partners,” each making sure the other ultimately ends their life. But will Aysel still want to die after her feelings for Roman start to change? This darkly funny novel takes us inside the world of two talented but depressed teens who can’t decide if life is worth the heartache. Warga makes us fall for Aysel, while offering an unflinching look at teen depression and suicide.
Playlist for the Dead, by Michelle Falkoff
After Sam and his best friend, Hayden, have a fight at a party, Sam goes to make amends the next day…only to find Hayden dead in his bed. His suicide note is a playlist Sam must listen to, in an effort to piece together why his best friend would take his own life. Playlist for the Dead is for anyone who has had to cope with moving on from a friend’s death, and the difficulty of learning to grow even if it means leaving the memory of that friend behind.
Things We Know By Heart, by Jessi Kirby
After Quinn loses her boyfriend in a car accident, she’s determined to track down those who received his organs after his death in order to find peace. The owner of his heart, however, doesn’t want to be found. Quinn isn’t that easily discouraged, and ultimately locates the recipient. The idea of a girl attempting to find meaning after her boyfriend’s death shatters her world will surely hit home with anyone who’s suffered the loss of a love.
What You Left Behind, by Jessica Verdi
When Meg dies, Ryden must take responsibility for their young daughter and try to balance his life as a father with his role as a high-school senior. Meanwhile, he can’t move on to a new love while he’s still mourning Meg, especially after finding her old diary. A nice gender reversal here, and definitely a novel that’ll tug on some heart strings!
The Last Time We Say Goodbye, by Cynthia Hand
After Lex’s brother kills himself, she can’t find a way to move on with her life. How can she reconcile her life pre-suicide with the emptiness she feels after her brother is gone? In Perks of Being a Wallflower fashion, Lex’s therapist recommends she journal to work through her emotions, and we’re given access to this secret part of herself. The Last Time We Say Goodbye focuses more on the living than the dead, and deals with Lex’s attempts to overcome her grief and learn to live again.
All The Bright Places, by Jennifer Niven
A double-whammy tale about a girl named Violet grieving the death of sister and a suicidal boy named Finch. After they meet atop their high-school bell tower, where each is considering taking the plunge, they slowly start to fall for each other—and might eventually learn to heal from each other. Watching them grow closer and begin to take control of their lives and issues is life-affirming and sweet, but their journey remains complicated.