My Heart and Other Black Holes is actually the fourth YA novel I've read about suicide so far this year.
Seriously, the fourth one released since the start of January that I've read. I'm sure there are more I haven't read. It's a strange trend that I'm definitely going to be writing more about in depth soon. But My Heart and Other Black Holes was such a good book that I wanted to recommend it on its own. And since I've read so many similar books recently, a few things stood out about this one that make it worth reading.
- It's a "suicide book" that's actually from the perspective of the suicidal teenager (rather than from the "person left behind," a la 13 Reasons Why or I Was Here).
- It explores the way that depression warps a person's sense of reality and their relationships with others
- -It presents talking to other people, counselling and other treatments as good things (which is surprisingly rare)
- It has romance, but it's not an "I will live so I can be with my love!" story
- It doesn't end with a "now everything will always be better" message, but just the idea that struggling on is worthwhile.
The novel's hook is that it's about a physics geek girl and a popular basketball-playing boy who make a suicide pact together, with the chapters counting down to the day that they agreed to die. The concept initially felt a bit melodramatic to me, although a quick google reveals that it's horrifyingly real, but the characters were compelling, and the writing was incredibly readable and relatable. There's something obviously uncomfortable about reading a book where the protagonists are encouraging one another to die, and deciding NOT to die is seen as "weak," but the novel uses this to explore the way that guilt and depression can twist everything around, so I think that it's worth that discomfort in the end.
From the summary, it's pretty easy to predict where the romance will come, and that is definitely one of the most troubling and interesting parts of the book. Whether you think the book properly engages with the problems inherent in this will definitely affect how you feel about it, but I at least thought the novel engaged with its grey areas without promoting them as healthy or, conversely, becoming too after-school special.
My Heart and Other Black Holes hit all the emotional notes just right, and dealt well with all the difficult moral questions that the concept of suicide partners raises. Most importantly, it never allows for the cliched idea that "they met to die but ended up saving one another." They have to save themselves.
It's compelling, it's heart breaking, it's hopeful, and it avoids a lot of the pitfalls that often trip up similar books. If you're looking for a serious contemporary to read, this should be high on your list.