Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Suicide Notes, Michael Thomas Ford

- Review by Cindi

4.5 out of 5 stars

Suicide Notes
Suicide Notes is told from the point of view of a fifteen-year-old boy. After finishing it, I went back and read other reviews and was quite surprised over what I found. There are a lot of comments about it being too juvenile or too teenage-like. It is supposed to be read that way as the entire story is told by Jeff, a fifteen-year-old boy who chronicles his time in a pediatric psychiatric ward after attempting suicide. It is told in the words of a fifteen-year-old and it is told from the mindset of a fifteen-year-old. If you are looking for something more 'adult' or that is not written in the words of a teenage boy, I suggest reading another book. The blurb clearly states what the book is about so do not go into it expecting more than what it says. While I don't normally post official blurbs in my reviews, I am in this case for the reasons I mentioned.

Blurb, taken from Goodreads: 
I'm not crazy.  I don't see what the big deal is about what happened. But apparently someone does think it's a big deal because here I am. I bet it was my mother. She always overreacts.
Fifteen-year-old Jeff wakes up on New Year's Day to find himself in the hospital. Make that the psychiatric ward. With the nutjobs. Clearly, this is all a huge mistake. Forget about the bandages on his wrists and the notes on his chart. Forget about his problems with his best friend, Allie, and her boyfriend, Burke. Jeff's perfectly fine, perfectly normal, not like the other kids in the hospital with him. Now they've got problems. But a funny thing happens as his forty-five-day sentence drags on -- the crazies start to seem less crazy.
Compelling, witty, and refreshingly real, Suicide Notes is a darkly humorous novel from award-winning author Michael Thomas Ford that examines the fuzzy lines between "normal' and the rest of us.  
Jeff is confined to a psychiatric ward for forty-five days after attempting suicide on New Year's Eve. Told in first person by Jeff, he chronicles his confinement with each new day. Initially there is denial and the typical attitude of a teenage boy who is convinced that he doesn't belong with the other 'crazies' as he describes them. But with each day Jeff starts to realize that maybe he is exactly where he needs to be after all. 

I know they're hoping I'll say something about why I did what I did. So for the record: I just felt like it.

"You can't keep me here against my will," I informed him. "In case you don't know, this is the land of the free. People have rights. I have the right to free speech, and to bear arms, and to not be locked up in a nuthouse!"
I knew what I was talking about. I mean, I've read the Constitution. In sixth grade, and I don't remember exactly what it said. But still.

My name is Jeff. I'm fifteen. I have a sister named Amanda who's thirteen, my parents are still married to each other, and all four of us live in a perfectly nice neighborhood in a perfectly nice city that's exactly like a billion other cities. My parents have never beaten us, I've never been molested by a priest, I don't hate the other kids at my school any more than is normal for a kid my age, I don't listen to death metal, have an obsession with violent video games, or cut the heads off small animals for fun.
That's pretty much everything I told Cat Poop in our session today.

There is an interesting set of secondary characters who Jeff comes in contact with while in the hospital. There is his psychiatrist Dr. Katzrupus (aka Cat Poop to Jeff), Nurse Goody (Nurse Goody. Can you believe that? Her name is actually Nurse Goody. And she is, too. Good, I mean. She's always smiling and asking me if she can get me anything. I bet Nurse Goody is standing outside the door selling tickets, like those guys at carnivals who try to get people to pay to see the freak show), Nurse Moon (One of the night nurses, whose name I think is Nurse Moon... okay, maybe not, but I don't know her real name), Carl (a night security guard), as well as others.  The most interesting are the other patients. There is Alice whose problems are quite severe and who has a flair for the dramatic. Bone is a mystery as his problems aren't made known. There is Juliet, who is convinced she is in a relationship with Bone, though Bone says otherwise. There is Martha who is very quiet but has her reasons for being so. There is Sadie who wants everyone to believe she is this strong person but who in reality is suffering worse than she lets on. There is Rankin, a high school jock who feels that the world should revolve around him. Rankin plays a huge part in Jeff's story and not necessarily in a good way. Good or bad, Rankin forces Jeff to accept some things that he would have preferred not to. There are other patients but none as significant to the book as those I mentioned.

Then we get to Marjorie and Eric, Jeff's parents. Jeff also has a younger sister, Amanda. Jeff's parents are good people but they could never possibly understand what goes on inside the mind of their fifteen-year-old son. They love him. They support him.  They are proud of him. But they are not overly affectionate and each has a difficult time showing their love, though Jeff knows beyond doubt that it is there.  Amanda is the perfect little sister. She is not in the book much but when she is, I found myself smiling. Anyone would be lucky to have Amanda as a sister. 

"Jeff, is there anything you would like to say to your parents?" Cat Poop said when we'd all been quiet for what seemed like years.
Is there anything I'd like to say to them? I thought. Yeah, there was. Why didn't you just let me die? for starters. Why'd you have to come home early from your stupid party? Why'd you have to put me in this place with a bunch of whack-jobs?

There is a lot of dark humor in this book and I know that sounds odd considering the subject matter. I found myself laughing at Jeff's attitude and actions on more than one occasion. His daily visits with Doctor Katzrupus gave me an entirely new appreciation for every therapist who has ever treated teenagers.  Jeff does not make things easy with 'Cat Poop' but the good doctor is extremely patient and is able to see right through Jeff. I found myself saying "Yes!" each time the doctor got under Jeff's skin and forced him to face his issues.

"I don't belong here," I informed Cat Poop, thinking this just hadn't occurred to him. "These people are seriously demented. It's not good for me to be around them. I might catch something."

"I did it because . . ." I hesitated, blinking and sniffling a little, like I might start to cry at any second. "I did it because . . . because I couldn't stand to live in the same world as Paris Hilton."

All is not humorous, however, as it deals with a very serious subject. Parts are heartbreaking and Jeff must find a way to face the issues that brought him to the hospital in the first place. He fights the doctor every step of the way.

"There is no reason," I said. I was getting angry because he wasn't listening to me. "I just did it. I'm a teenager. We get bored and do stupid stuff. Now I'm over it and I want to go home."

The reader is not made aware of the reasons for Jeff's suicide attempt until long into the book but by this time, it's pretty much figured out anyway.  Perhaps not the entire story, but the gist of it. This is another thing that I read in other reviews of this story. Some people felt let down when Jeff finally confessed why he did what he did because it was supposedly too predictable.  I did not. I felt that the reveal was written beautifully and that everything that came before it was necessary for his healing. 

Suicide Notes delves into a very serious subject, a subject that unfortunately is all too prevalent in the world today. Each day it seems like I am reading something online about yet another teenager who has committed suicide because of their sexual orientation. While this book is about Jeff, it is also about other teens who feel that they are also at the end of their rope for various reasons. My heart breaks knowing that people get to this point. In Jeff's case, it was because of his sexuality. In Sadie's and others, it was about other issues.  I applaud the author for taking a serious subject and spotlighting it. I am just sad that it is necessary.

Overall, I really enjoyed this book. I laughed a lot and I have to say I got teary a couple of times as well. While Jeff's story is sometimes told in a humorous way, the author still makes it very clear that the teen is dealing with very serious emotional issues.  I only had one problem with the book and this is why my rating is 4.5 instead of a full 5 stars. While the book is told exactly in the way in which it should have been told, I would have liked to have seen an epilogue giving the reader information of what happened later. There are a few things left unresolved (in my opinion) and I was hoping to see that explained.  Otherwise, an outstanding book and highly recommended.  There is a bit of language and sex talk and a few sexual situations that some might find disturbing.  Also, some things happen with Sadie and with Rankin (in separate instances) that may put some off. Keep that in mind before reading.

For more information about suicide prevention, visit The Trevor Project. Taken from the official website: The leading national organization providing crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning youth.


  1. Wonderful review, Cindi. The author nailed the attitude of a teenager and a teenager in that situation. Obviously it varies on personality, but the quotes you used and the descriptions made me smile that smile you do when you know it's oh so right :)

    1. Thank you. The entire time I was reading it I was reminded that it hasn't been that long since I had my own fifteen-year-old boy and I kept seeing my boys in Jeff in the story with his attitude. It is a very good, thought-provoking book.