This spring I've been spending some time reading. Shocking, I know. I've been reading and re-reading books that focus around some pretty difficult themes: teen violence and suicide. I have been lucky to be able to participate in a grant through the American Library Association and the National Endowment for the Humanities called the Great Stories Club. This year our topic is "Structure of Suffering: Origins of Teen Violence and Suicide". With the support of this amazing program, I am able to partner with the Kitsap County Juvenile Detention Facility to provide copies of the three books we are reading this year and participate in great discussions about the themes of structural violence, mental health, rape culture, bullying and suicide in the context of the books that were selected.
It might not sound like an uplifting way to spend my Friday mornings, but I look forward to seeing the students every week, reading along with them and hearing what they think about the books so far. Reactions have ranged from "Why are we reading this book? It's so depressing!" to "I experienced this and I think I understand where she's coming from". We have had conversations about the characters, their lives, and how the teens in our group would have reacted differently. We discussed whether bullying is a big problem, or if it has changed and how language affects the way we see ourselves and others.
If you'd like to read along with us, and maybe start having some conversations about the origins of teen violence and suicide in your community check out the books for this year:
13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher
Although there has been a lot of discussion recently about this book and the Netflix series inspired by it, I went into our discussion of this book not having seen the series. A few of the teens had been watching it and were much more interested in talking about the book. Our discussion centered not so much around whether or not Hannah was justified in committing suicide and sending out the tapes, but rather on how things might have turned out differently had there been more support for Hannah at school and at home. The "snowball effect" that Hannah talks about was a great topic of discussion for our group. Although not everyone had experienced or is affected by the kind of bullying that Hannah is a part of, they could understand the feeling of a bunch of small things growing and growing until it gets to be overwhelming.
It's Kind of a Funny Story by Ned Vizzini
Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare