August 01, 2015

When Kacey Left

by Dawn Green
Red Deer Press
228 pp.
Ages 12+
April 2015

Books that deal with suicide at their core are never easy to read or review.  They are heartbreaking ends to life. Period.  But When Kacey Left focuses that heartbreak on the survivors and less on the individual who committed suicide and that makes all the difference in the story-telling.  And it’s story-telling that gets to the crux of the repurcussions of suicide: that those left behind are left to grieve, to understand and to go on.

When Kacey Left is written as a series of letters in a journal by 16-year-old Sara a.k.a. Sticks to her best friend Kacey a.k.a. Stones as prescribed by Sara’s counsellor to deal in the aftermath of Kacey’s suicide.  The letters span the gamut of emotional devastation from sadness, depression, anger, denial, and guilt with questions, lots and lots of questions.  As reluactant as she is to pour out her emotions, Sara is very articulate about sharing everything with her friend.

Sara talks about their other friend, Drea, and her rise to popularity after Kacey’s suicide; about the reactions of fellow students to Kacey’s death and to Sara herself; about the funeral itself; about how their parents and teachers and even the school via principal directives have dealt with it.  Sara has to endure that stalklings of  an autistic girl whom she calls Weird Girl who wants to understand the spiritual consequence of Kacey’s demise.  There’s Sara’s mom who seems reluctant to give Sara time to herself, instead filling her time with guitar lessons, helping out at a school dance, and attending counselling sessions.  Dad’s reaction, on the other hand, is to get Sara a chocolate lab puppy she calls Hershey.  Sadly, Sara fells like everyone now knows her only as “the girl whose best friend killed herself.” (pg. 110)

As she attempts to make sense of Kacey’s suicide, taking months before she’ll even acknowledge that Kacey killed herself,  Sara finds herself trying to learn more about teen suicide and grief–such as the stages of denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance–ultimately helping her to open up to a major meltdown and help others understand what Kacey did.  No one might ever fully understand why Kacey did what she did but they would learn to accept it and and the consequences for all of them of what she did.
I’d told them I’d think about it. Me!? Some teen-suicide-prevention spokesperson? I feel like this is something I need to talk to you about, like I need your thoughts.  I’d be talking about you and I’m not sure you’d be okay with that.  I know you wouldn’t be.  But then again…you’re not here.  When you killed yourself, you kind of lost the right to have an opinion.  I think I’ve already made up my mind.  I just thought you should know…and I do hope you understand. (pg. 200-201)
I know that some people, like Principal Kline, are inclined to consider suicide a taboo subject that should not be discussed.  Whether it is the fear that others might consider suicide an option or the spiritual presumption that suicide leads to damnation, the reasons to keep it hush-hush is just ludicrous.   Dawn Green has done a great service to bringing suicide out of the closet and to the forefront of discussions by addressing what can happen in its aftermath.  By allowing Sara to share her own questions about Kacey taking her own life and trying to find answers whether through research, journaling or social discourse, Dawn Green will allow any young person who reads this book to take a closer look at suicide as more than just death or a storyline or an ending to pain, and instead a sorrowful consequence for those left behind.

I encourage everyone to read the section titled, “Suicide Information and Resources” with which Dawn Green appends her story.  It provides useful links and information, including the assertion that “There is a way through it.”  Her reference to the song, “Hold On” by Good Charlotte 2002 Sony BMG Music Entertainment) is especially positive but anguished. Here is a link to the group's YouTube video of the song so you can check it out for yourself. 

1 comment:

  1. That's an interesting choice, a journal, given the subject matter; it offers a voice to a character at a time when other means of expression might feel limited, but it could also be overwhelming for readers. It sounds like Dawn Green has found a great balance!