Teen Suicide in Young Adult Literature - How "Safe" is It?
By Jamie Quaranta
Peer pressure. Substance abuse. Broken family dynamics. Failed sexual and romantic relationships. Automobile accidents. Not knowing what to
do with the rest of your life after high school. All of these are the perfect ingredients for suicide's prominent role in realistic young adult literature.
had some tendencies to commit suicide during my adolescent years, I am fortunate to say that I have recovered from these episodes more successfully than others
over the years. A lot of teenagers fail to grasp the sinful and socially unacceptable implications of what they are doing to inflict great physical, and psychological, pain
amongst themselves. I was a rather blatant exception to this rule because, to this day, I continue to have strong faith in whatever difficulties I encounter on a daily
given basis. In addition, I knew that I had to seek immediate professional help way before I had to take a psychology course during my senior year in high school. My
life has never been the same since I graduated from high school, but in a more positive way, that is.
Regardless of how optimistic other young adults feel
about themselves, their place in the real world, and their respective future, many authors over the years have grown increasingly accustomed to this once-taboo
subject. In fact, many authors who specialize in writing for young adults have known that covering the "hot" theme of teen suicide in their works represents a greater
social, cultural, and moral truth to our society as a whole.
For example, Ellen Hopkins' "Impulse" (2007) deals with the completely unhappy lives and resulting
suicide attempts of three decidedly different teens. At the beginning of the story, sadomasochistic Vanessa decides to slash her wrists because of her absent father,
her manic depressive mother, and her secret abortion. Tony, on the other hand, has undergone severe abuse as a child, including a critically harrowing situation
where he killed his mother's child-molesting boyfriend. As a result of his emotional scars, he begins to question his own sexuality. To make up for his own losses, he
goes into the business of exchanging sex for money, probably because his substance abuse has created this "impulse" to do so. Meanwhile, Connor, the wealthy
son of rich, controlling parents, survives a self-inflicted gunshot wound after his failed sexual relationship with a female high school teacher of his. What all of these
teens have in common is that they are receiving treatment at a mental institution in Reno, Nevada. So, therefore, they begin to open up their tortures to their
counselor and to each other, all to find out, in the end, that exposing their darkest secrets to one another is the best possible remedy for dealing with their ongoing
The greatest aspect of reading "Impulse" is that readers will probably find some hope and encouragement from the troubled teens. The teens in the
story are characters almost every teen can identify with, regardless of sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, etc. During a wilderness camping trip with other patients and
staff, in particular, one of the teens begins to psychologically backslide at the thought of returning home. Thus, he decides to stop taking his antidepressants. His
risky yet promising consequences are played out, which leave the others to grapple with an additional loss, but also a reevaluated appreciation for life
Although Hopkins' excellent "message story" ends with great despair for all of the protagonists involved, I highly recommend that young adults read
"Impulse" for the critical message it conveys to anyone who is going through such uncontrollable upheavals in his or her life. Remember, there's nothing like having a
good friend by your side, no matter how troubled your life may be until the day you undecidedly pass on.
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