Jess is sixteen years old when her older brother Seb commits suicide. In her grief, Jess withdraws into herself, not talking to her parents, younger brother, nan, or even her best friend Lexi. She doesn’t talk to the school counsellor either, who instead encourages her to write about her feelings: to write to Seb.
Lexi has been messaging Jess daily, letting her know what’s going on outside of ‘planet Jess’. But Jess finds it difficult to write to Seb about the things that have happened since he died and instead goes back to when Seb was still alive, to tell him about things she wasn’t entirely honest about at the time. She also reflects on things she wishes she had done differently, like the time she discovered sleeping tablets in Seb’s room. Initially angry that she had been snooping, he admitted he had tried to commit suicide before, but that things were different. He told her he had no plans to take the pills, he just liked to know they were there. He convinced her there is no need to cause their parents worry by telling them. Jess also admits to Seb the truth behind her relationship with Tris, the gorgeous and confident boy in Seb’s year at school who Jess meets at a party thrown by herself and Lexi.
I read this book in one sitting. I was engrossed in it and the emotions it raised have stayed with me long after I finished. The subject matter makes it a difficult to book to read, but this is how it should be. It is about the guilt suffered by those who are left behind after suicide. The implosion of a family after the death of a child and the varied ways grief manifests itself. It also tackles the pressures put on young people, both in terms of academic success and relationships.
It is a very well written book. Told from a first person point of view, it feels at times like Jess has left her writing on a desk and you have happened to pick it up. Some of the phrases on depression and grief are excellent. One of my favourite quotes was from Marigold, the school counsellor on the idea that Seb had committed suicide because he not been loved enough. “You couldn’t measure love……….The point about love was that it could contain and survive all kinds of pain and imperfection. Anger, disappointment and blame were part of every relationship, and it was love’s process to transform them.”
In our interview with Jenny Alexander earlier in the year, we learnt it was a very personal book. It was initially released to coincide with World Suicide Prevention day with the aim of writing about suicide and depression to a young adult audience. In my opinion, this is a book that moves across age constraints and would speak to adults too.