(If you'd like, you can read my pre-review post here on BL, which I'm not putting in the review on my blog. Too personal, too much backstory for why I felt the way I did with this book. But it's there in case you're interested. I think it did more for me than it will for anybody else, but that's okay.)
This is one of those rare moments where I feel like I have to give it three stars, not because I both liked and disliked it, but because I’m not sure it made me feel anything at all. And…it’s kind of strange to think about.
I know what it’s like to wake up in the morning and be told that someone you counted on always just…being there isn’t there anymore. I know what it’s like to discover that you weren’t enough to keep them there–that nobody was. I didn’t lose my best friend. But I lost someone I loved, and I don’t know if it will ever stop haunting me she could have done it herself. I look for books like this because I want them to tell a story–I want them to tell the real story, of what it’s like when you lose someone to a suicide. But it feels like every book I pick up dealing with student suicides grazes over how much it hurts, how much it resonates and filters through you until it reaches your core and trickles into your bloodstream. How that loss is forever a part of you, no matter what happens. The guilt, the fear, the terror, the disbelief. I want a story that finally tells everyone what that feels like.
This story didn’t do it for me.
When I think about it, I’m not sure there’s much I liked at all, except for the concept and the use of the photography throughout the book. We weren’t given a very good look into who Ingrid was when she was with Caitlin, or what made them best friends–and an even smaller look into how the suicide itself affected Caitlin. That’s extremely disappointing to me, but still–none of that made me hate this book, or even dislike it. Rather, I went through my own emotional purge that cut so deeply that I came away feeling very little about the book itself. And…I guess it’ll be weird to write a review based on these feelings.
I would like to warn potential readers though–this book is triggering. There are graphic descriptions of Ingrid’s suicide, and they were unsettling to me for a variety of reasons. I often had to close the book and take deep breaths to steady myself again. This book is not right for anyone who might be contemplating suicide. This book is not right for anyone struggling with self-harm of any kind. Please, please do not read it if you are faced with either of those fears and challenges.
What I Liked: Spoilers!
- This sounds really, truly awful, but I’m not sure there’s anything about this book, specifically, that made me like it. It did, however, sort of…I don’t know, “unlock” a lot of stuff in me. I started reading this book one night and that night, I could barely sleep. I kept thinking about those few days right before and right after I found out about my friend. The aftermath, the shock and horror of it all. This book pulled so much out of me, and I ended up breaking down with my mom and crying like I haven’t since the day I found out she died. I admitted things that I was feeling that I’ve never sound out loud before. And…well, because of this book, I was able to work through some of the guilt I’ve been feeling, even after all this time. I was able to talk about it and get everything that has been building up for the last year and a half out of my system. And I think I really needed that. I know that it’s not anything about the book itself, but…I think it’s something I needed right now, and I’m lucky that it was able to give me the release that I needed to get through that. I really do thank Nina LaCour for giving that to me, however indirectly.
What I Didn’t Like:
- This book felt unrealistic to me. All I can go on is my own experience with this situation, but…I can’t imagine, in any situation, people being so callous and harsh about what happened with Ingrid, especially when they’re talking to Caitlin. One character, Taylor, asks Caitlin the first time he sees her after Ingrid died, “How did she do it?” Shoot, Taylor, you don’t ask something like that. Caitlin also eats lunch one day with some “loner” kids on the soccer field, and they all spout off about how brave Ingrid was. They would say things like, “You have to have balls to slash your wrists like that” or “That’s really brave, you have to cut through the tendon and everything and most people pass out before they actually bleed enough to die” or “I’m not brave enough to do it like that.” Because authors of books like these absolutely, absolutely, can’t even begin to send the message that suicide is “brave”. They shouldn’t praise Ingrid for “having the balls” to cut her wrists so deeply that she bled to death in her bathroom. Meanwhile, in Caitlin’s flashbacks, she talks about how she knew Ingrid cut herself in different places, and carved “F*** You” into her stomach, and when Ingrid showed her the first time…Caitlin acted like it was a normal thing for girls to do. She said she knew other girls at the school who cut, and she didn’t tell anyone. For the love of all things, if you know someone who is harming themselves, you need to tell someone immediately. It’s not “normal” to self harm. It’s not “okay” to carve ugly things about yourself into your stomach or hips. It’s not acceptable. Teens might do it, but that doesn’t mean authors should be sending the message that it’s something a lot of people do, or that it’s okay. For all these reasons, someone who struggles with self harm or thoughts of suicide shouldn’t read this book–it sends all kinds of wrong messages to them about it being normal or okay or understandable. And it teaches you that taking a knife and cutting your wrists so deeply that you completely bleed out is somehow “brave”.
- My other “big issue” with this book is that it sort of cops out on the aftermath of Ingrid’s death. I read the Q&A with the author in the back, who said she lost a classmate to suicide when she was a freshman in high school. However, in the very beginning, Caitlin tunes out what her parents are saying and runs away. And then three months pass where they go on vacation and Caitlin doesn’t think about Ingrid or what happened at all. Three months. A lot happens in three months. You go through a lot of stages of grief. It feels like just yesterday, but you know that time has finally started to pass again. Plus, Caitlin misses the last few days of school, so she doesn’t see what it does to her classmates–so when she goes back in September, nobody really wants to talk about it. Which sends the message to both Caitlin and reader that nobody cared about what happened to Ingrid. Which would be totally, completely untrue in the real world. And Caitlin, while she may have been trying to ignore the fact that Ingrid was dead, never worked through any of that grief before she went back to school–very little of the book actually talked about what the fact that Ingrid killed herself did to Caitlin. If my best friend suddenly committed suicide with almost no warning whatsoever, I would be agonizing over why. I would spend almost every second wondering what was wrong, why she felt like she couldn’t just keep going, perhaps why I wasn’t enough to keep her there. Caitlin doesn’t seem to care, or notice that Ingrid actually took her own life–just that she’s dead. Ingrid was sad in some of her journals, yeah, but…I don’t know. The way everyone reacted to Ingrid’s death fell flat for me, and seeing that reaction is what I was looking forward to the most.
- I hate to say this, but Ingrid was just…an all-around unlikeable character. She was clinically depressed, diagnosed at nine, but she would stop taking her medication because it made her feel groggy. She would flaunt the fact that she cut herself to her best friend. And in her journal, she deliberately made Caitlin out to be some sort of bad guy–and specifically gave that journal to Caitlin when she knew she was going to kill herself. Ingrid said some pretty hurtful things about her best friend–that she didn’t notice her enough, that she wasn’t nice enough sometimes, that she didn’t want to hear about Ingrid’s crush all the time, that she was annoying, or insensitive. And when we finally got to the suicide note addressed to Caitlin, Ingrid tells her all the reasons why Caitlin just isn’t good enough to make life worth living. And then “I don’t want to hurt you or anybody, so just forget about me.” If you really didn’t want to hurt your best friend, why would you let her read so many cruel things after you’re gone? As if it wouldn’t be hard enough to know that your best friend took her own life, she then goes and lets you know why a lot of it is your fault because you didn’t “notice enough”? It was hard for me to sympathize with Ingrid’s situation, especially because of the way she treated Caitlin in the end and the fact that she didn’t take the medication she needed in order to get better. But Caitlin wasn’t perfect either, although I sympathized with her more. However, had my best friend left me her private journal at the end of her life, I wouldn’t go make photocopies of the entries and pass them out to random people–some people that Ingrid didn’t even know. She let Jayson read the entries about Ingrid wanting to sleep with him and “have it hurt” and those private thoughts, and she let Ingrid’s parents read all the awful thoughts about sadness and “Dear Mom, I hate you” and stuff, and just…why would you do that? Why would you take something so private and pass it out to various people? That just…I can’t even fathom that. The “climax” of the story was lost on me because I was so shocked and somewhat horrified that Caitlin would do something like that.
Overall: I think that if you read this review, you’ll probably think that I didn’t like this book. The truth is that it’s easier for me to point out what I didn’t like, because it’s more…concrete than why I liked it. I liked it because it made me think and it helped me, somehow, work through things that I needed to think about. It pushed me in the right direction to get some of that stuff out and talk about it with someone, and that was really helpful. And I’m always grateful when an author tries to tackle the horrors of suicide and how it affects people left behind. However, this book did have a few sticking points for me, the biggest of which was that suicide seemed to be glorified by other students, and the fact that a girl was depressed enough to take her own life was just completely glazed over–like it somehow isn’t a big deal. And life, human life, is just too precious for us to not be telling each other each and every day how loved we are to one another and how much we matter to each other. I felt like it normalized self harm in a dangerous way and made suicide out to be a reasonable action for Ingrid to have taken, all things considered. So I don’t recommend it to anyone struggling with suicidal thoughts or triggers with self-harm. And probably age fifteen and older, for language and graphic descriptions of Ingrid’s body.