Suicide Notes: A novel by Michael Thomas Ford

Published by HarperTeen

I WAS taken aback by this title when it arrived on my doorstep. This reaction is one I’m certain Michael Thomas Ford anticipated, a feeling of disquiet, a desire almost to avoid the uncomfortable, it is exactly the feeling that his writing forces you to confront on every page.

This short, unapologetic novel originally published in 2008, was sitting on top of a far thicker sequel, long-anticipated by fans.

Now I have read this, the original, I both understand the anticipation and feel it’s time it was introduced to a new generation such as my own who missed it the first time. Suicide Notes is a coming-of-age novel for those who may once have feared they never would.

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Though containing mature themes and best suited for those 14+, the way these are handled as they relate to the main character Jeff’s journey is honest but never gratuitous, reminiscent of Stephen Chbosky’s The Perks Of Being A Wallflower, another unpatronising exploration of teen mental health.

When Jeff wakes up in the psychiatric ward, he is absolutely certain it’s a mistake. He’s nothing like the young people around him, who actually have something wrong with them.

When the doctor and nurses won’t accept that the bandages on his wrists are simply from a stupid mistake, he realises he’s stuck in this place for 45 days.

Each of these is a chapter in which the reader will both feel annoyed by and sympathetic toward Jeff between the cruelty to those around him born of his own denial and the genuinely witty observations on his surroundings.

No matter what it is you’re laughing at though, there is a sense of skilful comedy throughout, one which refuses to trivialise the serious topics.

Despite his instinct to be left alone, Jeff realises he must confront the issue that is one of the novel’s main themes – his connection with those around him, from new friendships to some he wishes he could forget.

As much as he insists he is vastly different from the small group of teenagers in the ward, especially when they recount horrible stories of abuse, confusion and depression in group therapy, it is the little things he finds himself relating to.

There is a surprising but attention-holding element of mystery to the story which comes from Jeff’s initial hesitation to invest in the program and open up. Even the reader, who hears his every thought, jumping wildly from one to the next looking for distraction, is only able to pick up clues as to how he might have ended up in this place and what about himself he’s trying to avoid and hide.

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Each day he lies to his psychiatrist, each sarcastic comment or lack of a letter from his best friend on the outside, Allie, makes his own thoughts harder to hide from. As he comes to confront these truths, it is not total catharsis but the start of another journey of recovery.

This is the journey I and other fans, new and old, can read now in the sequel, Every Star That Falls.

The National: