I’m a massive fan of Bill Konigsberg, so I was very excited to learn he was coming out with a new book. This was certainly an intense and quite a raw read.
It follows two teens, Aaron and Tillie, two strangers but who end up on the George Washington Bridge at the same time with the intention of jumping. Aaron is gay and suffering from depression, and Tillie has just been ghosted by her boyfriend and has been publicly humiliated in an online bullying event. So there are four scenarios that could play out:
- Tillie jumps, but Aaron doesn’t.
- Aaron jumps, but Tillie doesn’t.
- They both jump.
- Neither of them jumps.
What’s interesting about this story is that it explores all four outcomes in a diverging storyline format, which I typically enjoy. That is to say, the story plays out all four scenarios allowing us to see the fallout and repercussions of each decision on everyone in their lives. It’s funny. I went into this without knowing anything about it (Bill is an auto-buy author for me).
But when we moved onto the second scenario, I thought, “Wait, What??? Isn’t Tillie dead??” It’s at this point I read the blurb and had that: “Aha!” moment.
So….to say this novel is powerful is an understatement.
As you can imagine, any novel with the theme of suicide at its core is no doubt raw and heart-breaking, and this novel is no exception. Though a bit tough to read in places and definitely an emotional roller-coaster, it was also compelling as each section laid out the various possibilities of events following each scenario.
In the story, he delves into themes of mental health, bullying, shame, body shaming, body image, parental neglect, family, loneliness, and of course, death by suicide. But I felt that at no point does the author romanticize suicide but instead shows the brutal results of such an act and how it can affect so many others.
Now given that this is an exploration of these four different scenarios, there’s really not any closure to the story as all of the stories end in an open kind of way. It’s up to us to decide the outcome of each story. I’m glad the author saved the scenario in which neither teen jumps for the last, which ends the novel in a hopeful and optimistic manner.
The message at the core of these four stories is kind of a wake-up call — maybe even a personal message to anyone who has or has ever had suicidal thoughts. There’s no ideation here, but instead, the author attempts to show us that things will, indeed, get better, as well as illustrating how devastating the death of a loved one by suicide can be for family and friends.
I also think these four stories create an often much-needed conversation around the topic of depression and mental illness in general. In the case of one of the characters, it’s discussed how exhausting it is to keep a smiling face when the darkness inside threatens to overwhelm you and pull you down.
The events that kicked off each scenario were not only fascinating but also eye-opening, and I felt that the author did an excellent job of bringing these events to life for the reader.
And even though we get the same story after the events of the George Washington Bridge, the book is not at all repetitive because every decision the teens make sets off a chain of entirely different events. The ripples and repercussions of each person’s decision in the story made for fascinating reading.
I felt the story in which they both jumped was especially powerful, and the author took it to the next level by showing the hole that they left not only now but in the future. Here, the author shows us how far into the future, the ripples of their decision can reach. For instance, the book introduced the people they were supposed to fall in love with, people who now felt like something is missing from their life, but they can’t put their finger on what.
So here, we see the effects not just on the people they knew but also on the people they should have known. Ah… I’m tearing up just thinking about it.
So again, the book is not an easy read by any stretch of the imagination. It’s dark, heavy, sad, and gut-wrenching. The grief in this story jumps off the page. But it’s also hopeful, in that there’s always another option, and in this book, we explore those options.