Suicide affects so many lives beyond the person taking their own. It has certainly affected mine, and odds are it’s impacted yours, too. That is the subject of This is Not a Love Letter, a teen fiction novel by Kim Purcell from Disney’s Hyperion book label.
Told in the first person and in real time, Jessie is eighteen and about to graduate high school. She lives in a small town in Washington, works as a lifeguard at the community pool, and doesn’t think she has much of a future laid out ahead of her. She has this amazing boyfriend named Chris who makes her see the world as a brighter place and shows her a future she didn’t think was possible... and now he’s missing.
Chris always used to write Jessie love letters, folded up as paper airplanes, and she never wrote back to him. As the story unfolds, we learn more about Chris while Jessie recounts some of her memories, trying to learn about what could have happened to him. The night he disappeared, Jessie had told him she wanted to take a one-week break as a couple.
The story touches on aspects of racism, as Chris was an African American in a predominantly white community. He had been beaten up a few weeks prior to his disappearance and Jessie believed it to be a hate crime. So when he vanishes without a trace, her immediate assumption is that Chris has been beaten unconscious, abducted, or murdered. The authorities aren’t much help either, assuming Chris has simply run away back to Brooklyn where he grew up.
But ultimately, Jessie is left trying to match up her seemingly happy, charming, well adjusted boyfriend with stories from Chris’ friends and family, who all know a different side of him. Learning about a mental illness that doesn’t seem to match the young man she loved, she draws inwards and begins to blame herself.
Readers will find out what really happened to Chris by the very end, and Kim Purcell keeps readers guessing. I typically don’t seek out books that I know will intentionally make me sad, and This is Not a Love Letter brought back powerful memories that I had to deal with again. As a read, it starts off slow, but ends beautifully with inspiring themes of how broken people need friends and family to help rebuild themselves. We can be powerful enough and strong enough to persevere if we choose to.
This story was inspired by the author’s experience of losing a close friend when she was in high school and after the story concludes, she shares more information about her personal experience losing a loved one. It includes useful information for those suffering from suicidal thoughts and the number for the National Suicide Prevention Line (1-800-273-TALK). Help is available to anyone who needs it and the heroes on the other end of the call are their to save your life if you need them. If you know someone who is having these kinds of thoughts or feelings, be their champion to seek help.
I recommend This is Not a Love Letter to anyone affected by suicide or suicidal thoughts. If you’ve ever lost someone important to you this way, Jessie’s story is sure to feel both familiar and inspiring all at once. This book has the power to help you heal. And for any readers having thoughts about taking their own life, it will make it clear that this personal decision doesn’t affect just you. It leaves an unfillable hole in the hearts of anyone whose ever loved you and while things may seem bad right now, they can and will get better if you seek help. This book has the power to change your life.