Is it possible to feel depressed and uplifted at the same time? I love books that make me feel and Suicide Watch hit me in the feels – hard. I was very impressed by Kelley York’s debut novel Hushed but I loved Suicide Watch even more if that is possible. The characters broke my heart into teeny, tiny pieces but now it is time to try and put it all back together again to try and write this review (though I feel whatever I write will not be sufficient to say just how much I loved this book).
Suicide Watch is the story of an 18 year-old boy called Vincent (Vince), who at the start of the novel loses his foster-mother Maggie to a heart attack. Maggie was the only person who ever truly cared and loved him and Vince feels totally lost after her death. Vince has his share of problems. He has unpredictable mood swings, veering from feeling too much to feeling not much of anything at all. He also gets severe panic attacks around other people. Faced with the reality of life on his own, even with the money Maggie left him to help him through the next couple of months, Vince feels more alone than ever. After being rejected by his only friend Corey, he contemplates taking more drastic action. He looks up death on the internet and comes across an online forum where people actively discuss how and when they wish to end their lives. Even more disturbing are the photos posted of the aftermath of these attempts. Despite feeling nauseated by these gruesome and macabre photos, Vince decides to try and reach out to one of the posters on the forum called ‘Casper’. Casper is a young girl who has no choice about her eventual demise. She is dying of cervical cancer. She knows she is going to die but wants to be the one in control of her fate. Vince also connects with a poster calling himself ‘Roxwell’ though this poster only really emails him with Beatles lyrics, not much actual conversation. Vince does find himself on occasion pouring his heart out to Roxwell, finding it easy to do so with an anonymous, willing recipient.
Although initially Vince only talks to Casper and Roxwell online, Casper soon pesters him to meet up with her and, although meeting new people isn’t something he enjoys or wants to be doing, Vince finds he cannot come up with a sufficient excuse. The next time they meet up Casper brings along Roxwell who is really a cripplingly shy boy called Adam. The three teens, despite coming from different backgrounds, find that they have quite a bit in common as all are broken in some way or another. They begin spending a lot of time together, supporting each other through the hurt and the pain of their lives. Vince is happy to have these new friends, even though he fears losing them again so soon after finding them. He knows Casper does not have long and he is unsure what to feel about Adam. Vince is attracted to the shy and withdrawn boy, who has also had a terrible upbringing. Adam’s parents were at one time very controlling but after his dad died his mother began to treat him as if he were non-existent. Being ignored so long has made Adam very wary of people. Vince wants to get to know him better but there is a wall between them, which Casper seems determined to break down.
What these three go though is absolutely heart-breaking and I found myself being really moved by their plight. Casper is the only one of the three who can truly be deemed ‘unfixable’. Her impending death is a reality the three must come to terms with. The resolution of her story is unavoidably tragic but hopeful at the same time. Casper is the catalyst of the story, it is she who brings the three of them together, and it is Casper who gives the two boys something to truly live for after her death – each other. She was a vibrant and dynamic character who overcame the limitations of her illness – she really was the strong one who gave two lonely, broken boys so much.
Adam was a fantastic character. He was so sweet yet also awkward. He found it so hard to say the right words, especially to Vince, but he said so much through his actions. He also seemed to be the wisest, some of his words when he actually did speak really got to me:
“…sometimes none of that matters…It doesn’t matter if it could be worse, because even those people living on the streets could still say ‘it’s not as bad as it could be’. You still feel the pain. It still matters. All this means nothing unless you have people around who understand you. People who get that, sometimes, you’re just…really, really, fucking sad and it’s for no reason at all…”
Adam is so used to being invisible that he finds it hard to speak to people. It was a joy to see him and Vince start to open up and fall for each other. They were really in sync and from the start recognised each other’s pain and loneliness. They were a perfect fit for each other.
Vince – what a beautiful, broken boy he was; full of self doubt and insecurities. He was the perfect narrator for this story. His voice was incredibly authentic. From the very start I was pulled into his story – he felt so real and at the same time lost and disconnected. His friendship with Casper and then Adam was a beautiful thing to see; for this boy who has held himself away from other people never really letting them see his true self for fear of being rejected. I loved that his friends saw the ‘real’ Vince and loved him as he was. Both Casper and Adam tell Vince during the course of the novel that he is much stronger than he knows and it is true. By the end Vince has transformed, and so has Adam. Both of them still broken but not beyond repair.
Music played a really big role in this book. I loved all the music references and allusions (but then I am a huge Beatles and Queen fan). Loved the references to Only Sleeping and In My Life in particular. I also loved Vince dancing around cleaning to I Want to Break Free (my favourite Queen song!) – felt like the right choice for his character. The use of Blackbird (an obvious choice but still a perfect one) at a certain point in the story was also very poignant.
I really loved this heartbreaking but at the same time hopeful story. It made me smile, it made me cry – I can’t really think of anything better. I like books that make me think and feel – that have the capacity to make me hurt and laugh – and this book achieved that in spades.
Overall score: 5/5 stars