4 out of 4 stars
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Liz happily watched her grandfather interact with the congregation at her home church. An unusual detail was that her grandfather was a younger version of himself, indicating the situation was far from reality. Just then, she had her mother’s voice call her name, and she started to feel groggy and weighed down. Her mother’s voice morphed into a stranger’s voice, and her perception returned. She was at Mount Sinai West Hospital, a patient under strict psychiatric observation. Liz’s ordeal began several weeks back when she received an anonymous handwritten journal.
Her work as a publisher involved receiving and reviewing manuscripts and developing the worthy ones into books. The journal philosophically detailed the suicidal thoughts of an unknown author for one year (from February 16, 2017, to February 22, 2018). Liz immediately made it her mission to find the author’s family and learn their story. Through obituaries and public records, she came up with four names, Tammy, Isha, Derek, and Melvin. Tammy and Isha were depressed and had challenging family lives. However, Tammy was middle-aged, and Isha was a teenager with a conservative Muslim family and a mental ailment. Melvin (Mel) lived as a man but underwent a gender transition later in life. She left behind a wife and two children who had never accepted the change. Finally, there was Derek, a publicly hated sex offender who was barely out of his teens.
What Should We Do Instead of Killing Ourselves? is a raw and surreal book. This being a non-fiction read, Elizabeth Gordon respectfully brings out the unknown author and every family member she interviews. She notes every perspective, including the controversial ones, and leaves one to ponder more about life. The descriptions of each setting and scene are also exquisite, enabling one to visualize every detail and feel all the emotions. The sarcasm brings out unexpected humor in the story, creating further intrigue.
My favorite aspect of the read is the alternating stories between Liz and the journal entries. Both unfold simultaneously, and a reader gets to see Liz’s struggles and quest to find the journal’s author while following the unknown author's thoughts. I equally love the statistics that back up every claim; for example, in Pittsburgh Allegheny County, the suicide rate increased steadily in the previous eight years and was 66% higher in 2017 than in 2010. However, I noted a few editorial errors, like some highlighted passages and undefined chapter headings.
I found only two minor grammatical errors, a testament to the professional editing. The language employed is intelligible but with several profanities, therefore, not suitable for readers under sixteen years. What Should We Do Instead of Killing Ourselves? highlights various societal issues like racial identity and the role of religion in mental health awareness. It also recognizes the shame and stigmatization that comes with being branded as mentally unstable or depressed. It also discusses the role of mental health experts in helping patients and the toll it takes on them. We rarely think about who takes care of the experts and therapists. I recommend the book to anyone undergoing a dark phase or any mental health advocate. It is a provocative, blunt, and abrasive book that deserves a rating of 4 out of 4 stars.
What Should We Do Instead of Killing Ourselves?
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