Young Adult books have never shied away from the tough topics, but it’s become even more noticeable over the last decade or two. Case in point: All The Things We Never Said, a young adult novel about an online suicide pact. Steel yourself, because this is going to get dark.
All The Things We Never Said is prefaced by an Author’s Note. Yasmin Rahman generously reveals that she – like her main character – experienced depression in her teenage years, and grew up in a very traditional Bengali Muslim family. It’s a kind heads-up for the reader about the content of the book, and includes directions to resources for help if needed.
There are three main characters. Mehreen is the one at the fore: she’s sixteen years old, and experiencing depression with a side of panic attacks. She calls it the ‘Chaos’, the feelings that take over her mind and body. She’s finding it difficult to function, and even more difficult to ask for help. So, she joins MementoMori, a website that promises to match people who wish to die by suicide with “partners”. The site provides a date and a “method” of death, and a set of instructions for preparatory tasks. (Yuck. Yuck, yuck, yuck.)
Mehreen is matched with Cara and Olivia, two girls of roughly the same age who have their own stuff going on. Cara was inured in a car accident ten months prior to the start of All The Things We Never Said, and now has to use a wheelchair to get around. That doesn’t bum her out as much as her mother’s constant hovering and refusal to talk about the accident (which also took the life of Cara’s father). Olivia’s chapters are written in a free verse style, which gives her a very different voice to Cara and Mehreen. Olivia’s life looks perfect from the outside, with more wealth and privilege than you could poke a stick at, but she’s being abused by her mother’s boyfriend and she can’t see a way out.
The three girls begin meeting, as instructed by MementoMori, to plan for their deaths and make arrangements. They bond quickly, of course, but in an ironic twist, their new supportive friendships alleviate a lot of their distress and have them re-thinking their plans to die. Unfortunately, MementoMori won’t “let” them back out of the pact, and sends them increasingly harassing messages and emails, encouraging them to “follow through”. (YUCK!)
There’s a lot of very teenage logic and behaviour in All The Things We Never Said, so it feels realistic in that regard, if not very relatable to an adult-adult reader. The tunnel vision of the characters’ adolescence is clearly amplified by their mental health struggles. The adults in their life are shown to be fairly clueless, and it’s understandable why Mehreen and co. wouldn’t feel comfortable approaching them for help. So, it’s pretty convincing emotionally, if frustrating in an old-head-on-young-shoulders way.
It should be clear by now, but just in case: anyone picking up All The Things We Never Said should know ahead of time that it contains 13 Reasons Why-style explicit exposition of suicidality, self-harm, and sexual abuse. It’s very dark, especially for the Young Adult category. The attempts at comic relief didn’t quite land, though it did have a neat and hopeful ending (so it didn’t end on too depressing a note, I guess).
I thought All The Things We Never Said would be more of a thriller, a la A Good Girl’s Guide To Murder, with plucky teen protagonists teaming up to bring down the evil genius behind the MementoMori website. It’s nothing along those lines. It’s more of a cautionary tale with A Message(TM), about the importance of friendship and support for teenagers dealing with depression and anxiety. Whether or not it’s worth reading I suppose depends on what exactly you’re looking for, and what you can handle in terms of triggers.