8 Books with Characters Who Have Considered Suicide But Find Their Rainbows
Content warning: this post contains descriptions of suicide attempts.
One of the most beautiful things about literature is how we find ourselves in books. Books can make us feel less alone. Even in “normal” times when we aren’t dealing with pandemics and large-scale unrest, 40% of adults report feelings of loneliness. Reading fiction can reduce those feelings.
It’s not easy talking about suicide. I’ve struggled with suicidal ideation for much of my life. When I was 16, I gave in to that nagging little voice in the back of my mind. It told me that my life would never get better, that the world was better off without me. I gathered all the pills I could find, finished my homework, swallowed the pills, and went to bed. I remember waking up the next day, feeling disappointed and utterly alone.
Now, I am a happy and well-adjusted adult. I’m successful by conventional standards, with a loving spouse and a job I enjoy. I have a wonderful community of both genetic and found family members. Nonetheless, there are still times when there’s a whisper in the back of my mind. It still tells me that the world is too heavy to bear and that it would be better off without me in it.
When you try to talk to people about that feeling, they often get understandably upset. It’s scary for people who love you to hear that you would even think about ending your own life. Still, such responses can make you feel even more isolated. The little voice at the back of your mind whispers that there is something profoundly wrong with you since other people don’t think about death as a relief or escape.
To be clear, I have been in therapy for a long time, have found medications that help, and am not in imminent danger of suicide. However, if you or someone you know is struggling with suicidal ideation, there are lots of resources to help. Here are a few examples:
Additionally, it has helped me to discover like-minded folks in literature. I find it encouraging to read about characters who have attempted or considered suicide, but come out the other side. Inspired by the play title for colored girls who have considered suicide / when the rainbow is enuf, I decided to compile a list of such books. I hope that the books on this list might help someone like me feel less alone and maybe a bit more hopeful.
Books with Characters Who Consider Suicide But Get Better
The Midnight Library by Matt Haig
Nora Seed is full of regret. She’s fired from a dead-end job, estranged from her family, distant from friends, and nursing a broken heart. Her life is nothing like she dreamed. When her cat is hit and killed by a car, Nora reaches her breaking point. After an attempt to take her own life, Nora wakes up in a massive library. In this waystation between life and death, Nora has the chance to experience her other possible lives. Each book is a life where her decisions led her down different paths. Ultimately, Nora’s story is touching, inspiring, and surprisingly funny.
Veronika Decides to Die by Paulo Coelho
Veronika, though seemingly living a perfect life, decides to end it. After swallowing sleeping pills, she awakens in a psychiatric institution. Unfortunately, the doctors tell her that she only has a few days to live because the suicide attempt gave her a heart condition. Emboldened by this prognosis, Veronika lives her last few days doing as she pleases. It’s a powerful story about what it truly means to live.
All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven
Told from their alternating viewpoints, All the Bright Places is the story of Finch and Violet. The pair meet atop the school’s bell tower, which they each consider jumping from. Instead, they embark on an adventure, exploring Indiana and learning to love life again. The book has been adapted into a Netflix film starring Elle Fanning and Justice Smith.
The Astonishing Color of After by Emily X.R. Pan
Though this book’s protagonist doesn’t survive or contemplate suicide, this beautiful story of grief still belongs on this list. When Leigh Chen Sanders’s mother dies by suicide, Leigh Chen is convinced her mother has become a bird. She travels to Taiwan to meet her grandparents and search for her mother the bird. The author explores the guilt survivor’s experience in a tale full of love and despair, magic and real life.
It’s Kind of a Funny Story by Ned Vizzini
As a chronic overachiever, this story resonated with me. Craig Gilner is ambitious and determined, traits which help him get into a prestigious high school. However, he soon discovers that the life he fought for is one of immense pressure. After nearly killing himself, he ends up in a psychiatric institution. As you can guess from the nature of this list, Craig slowly finds himself and his will to live.
Girl, Interrupted by Susanna Kaysen
This oldie holds a special place in my heart. I used to frequently watch the movie adaptation, starring Winona Ryder and Angelina Jolie. It’s a fascinating story of the author’s own experience with depression and suicide attempts. She’s admitted to a psychiatric hospital, where she meets a group of women who are both deeply flawed and incredibly relatable. It’s a story full of humor and heart.
Falling into Place by Amy Zhang
Next is a story of the intricate ways our lives intertwine with the lives of others — both knowingly and unknowingly. When mean girl and queen bee Liz Emerson attempts suicide by driving her car into a tree, the entire community is affected. Through flashbacks and snippets of the aftermath, Zhang weaves a story of depression, loneliness, and human complexity.
A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman
I love the trope of an angry curmudgeon being won over despite their best efforts. This story uses that to great effect, introducing us to Ove, a grumpy old man who has had a tough life. After he loses his wife, Ove decides to join her by taking his own life. Instead, he has to go outside to yell at the new neighbors who are moving in next door. That changes everything. It’s a truly beautiful story with an elegantly crafted full circle plot.
If you found this list helpful, here are a few others you might want to also check out: