This is a very powerful novel written for anyone above the age of 15. It is not for the faint-hearted; its theme is teenage depression and suicide.
We learn from the outset that the male narrator, 17-year-old Jersey Hatch, has made a suicide attempt by shooting himself in the head with his father’s gun. Since his attempt failed and he lived, Jersey must leave the rehabilitation hospital, scarred, blind in one eye and brain damaged with severe memory loss, to attempt what seems impossible: to return to his old life.
The novel is not an easy read. Because the narrator is brain damaged, we are confronted with Jersey’s confused and bewildered mind and his struggles with language. Everything Jersey thinks, he says out loud, so more often than not, he speaks what seems to be unrelated gobbledygook. In fact he says ‘socks’ so much because he’s trying to keep a sock in it and not get on everyone’s nerves. So indirectly, the book is very clever at showing us how the brain and language work.
Like The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time the book is a mystery story. Jersey spends the novel trying to find out why he tried to kill himself, because he can’t remember. With the help of a memory book and his next door neighbours, the kind and firm Mama Rush and her granddaughter Lisa, he painstakingly pieces together his own history. He had been good looking, clever and athletic. He had girls longing for him and made brilliant grades. Bravely Jersey goes back to school and finds the kids are now afraid of him. They cannot cope with this new Jersey who drools and talks nonsense and they bully him or avoid him. Nor can he bear to see his parents’ anguish. They have fallen apart and he knows that it is all his fault.
Despite its theme the book manages to be funny and moving. Jersey goes forward because there is nothing more he can do. He must pay the price for his actions and struggle with all the developmental problems of adolescence in a much more depleted state than before. That he does so creatively and without needing pity gives the novel its power.
Mindful of her audience, Vaught provides a whole chapter at the back of the book called ‘Resources’ listing agencies for depressed adolescents to contact and advice and information about how to recognise depression or if someone is at risk. I admire Vaught’s courage in tackling an unthinkable subject. It is a unique novel and deserves recognition.