Adam Blasberg

YA Books Come To Grips With Teen Suicide -- Head-On

Jasmine Wargo and other authors are confronting depression and suicide with poignant prose.

The third leading cause of death for young people between the ages of 10 and 24 is suicide. That's a staggering figure, especially when you consider that those deaths are often spoken of in hushed tones -- or not at all.

But a recent crop of YA authors -- including Jasmine Warga -- have decided to face the issue of suicide and depression head-on, telling vibrant, wrenching tales of teens grappling with their own lives.

Warga's debut novel, "My Heart and Other Black Holes," is the story of Aysel and Roman, two teens who meet and form a close bond over their mutual desire to die by suicide -- until Aysel begins to reconsider her decision to end it all.

"My Heart And Other Black Holes" is just one of many books dealing with suicide on shelves or coming to shelves of late: There's also Jennifer Niven's "All the Bright Places," Adam Silvera's upcoming "More Happy Than Not" and Michelle Falkoff's "Playlist for the Dead."

While it would be easy -- and cynical -- to attribute this influx of books to some kind of marketing trend (i.e., suicide is the new vampires) their presence in stores and libraries is essential to raising awareness and helping teens get the help they need.

"Because people do struggle with these issues there have always been these types of stories that are told in literature and art," Courtney Knowles of the Jed Foundation told MTV News. "I think it's great -- any time that we can talk about these issues in the context of people not feeling so alone if they're feeling these feelings and talk about solutions is a good thing.

"The most important point is to emphasize that there's help and hope," he added. "Just because some stories end sadly and suicide does happen doesn't mean that it has to. Oftentimes people who are having those thoughts are drawn to books and materials that deal with depression and characters who are thinking about suicide. I think any time an author is thinking about those kinds of stories they have to keep in mind that there may be people reading it [who are] themselves ... struggling and having a hard time."

MTV News spoke with Warga about her book -- and how she found a way to tell a story that seemed hopeless while still conveying hope.

MTV: So tell us a little about how social media plays into this story? The concept of "suicide partners" was new to me.

Jasmine Warga: As a teenager, I came across [a lot of stories] about how social media makes it easier now for people to get in contact with people who may be feeling the same way that you are. [And], to me, the book kind of has that irony because Aysel starts to get on the road to recovery from meeting this person who could still be seen as like a toxic influence.

I understand the need for community for people to feel the same way that you do -- but I also understand how toxic some places can become. I am interested in sort of exploring how the Internet has kind of broken open our conversations but also made it possible to keep stuff buried under the rug.

MTV: How did you research the subject? Did you check out any of those sites, or...?

Warga: I didn’t do that much research to write the book. I kind of wrote from my own gut, from my own personal experience -- it’s not biographical at all, so I hate to say that -- [but] my own feelings about depression.

I didn’t want go to any of those websites -- I didn’t want to give any of them traffic. It becomes a weird line that I think every writer faces. You don’t want to prey on other people’s spaces. I wanted to be careful that I was staying in the realm of writing a fictional story.

After the book was finished, my editor had it shown to a psychiatrist. It’s a complicated book and it’s a book I think that doesn’t have a lot of concrete answers but asks some complicated questions --- both morally and in terms of behavior. The psychiatrist who was very familiar with these types of cases found it to be really authentic but also responsible.

MTV: Have you heard from any teens after reading the book? Have they shared any experiences?

Warga: I’ve been getting a lot of really, really heavy emails. Lots of them have actually made me cry, which I didn’t expect because I’m a pretty emotional person but I’m not someone who cries about their own work.

The vast majority of emails I’ve gotten since the book has come out have been from actual teenagers -- lots of whom who have had experiences like Aysel's in the book. Lots of them have been open about their own like suicidal thoughts, so I think for me it’s now how to respond to things that take fiction out of the realm of fiction and making sure that people are getting the help and reaching to the correct places. As touched as I am to get those emails, I don’t want to be the only person that’s aware in their lives that this is happening.

Adam Blasberg

MTV: Why do you think so many books about suicide are coming out now?

Warga: While my book is about suicidal ideation, I think it’s about depression more than it is about suicide. That’s something that was important to me when writing the book, because most of the books I read about suicide as a teenager started after the person had already made the choice to end their life. We never gave a voice to the actual sufferer of depression -- and I think that there’s not enough survivor stories out there about people who have really looked this disease right in the face.

I think we, for a long time, have had this misguided idea that not talking about it makes it disappear -- and talking about it makes it contagious. I think that’s so problematic because it stigmatizes and it shames people for having these feelings, and it makes them less likely to reach out. So, I am hopeful [that the publication of all these books is] showing that people are more eager to talk about -- and hopefully eager -- to discuss it.

If you or anyone you know is dealing with depression and/or considering suicide, it's extremely important to tell a parent, teacher or counselor, or call (800) 273-TALK and visit HalfofUs.com.


VMAs 2017