I’d like to extend a warm welcome to you and your psyche and I’m happy that you’re here today to join me and my psyche as we take a look at a book that is both timely and illuminating for the YA market. I speak of The Pause by John Larkin, an Australian story that hits upon the simultaneously expansive and reductive nature of time and thought in a hugely relevant way for young people who may be finding the everyday goings-on of life too much to bear. I received a digital copy of this title from the publisher via Netgalley.
Declan seems to have it all: a family that loves him, friends he’s known for years, a beautiful girlfriend he would go to the ends of the earth for. But there’s something in Declan’s past that just won’t go away, that pokes and scratches at his thoughts when he’s at his most vulnerable. Declan feels as if nothing will take away that pain that he has buried deep inside for so long. So he makes the only decision he thinks he has left: the decision to end it all. Or does he? As the train approaches and Declan teeters at the edge of the platform, two versions of his life are revealed. In one, Declan watches as his body is destroyed and the lives of those who loved him unravel. In the other, Declan pauses before he jumps. And this makes all the difference. One moment. One pause. One whole new life.
This book is based upon an incredibly simple, yet vitally important concept: that when it comes to mental illness and decisions made when not in one’s right mind, a moment can make all the difference. Undeniably, this is something that young people, with their still-developing brains and lack of life experience, can find difficult to grasp and it is the key to overcoming the feelings of desperation that can lead to an individual making a tragic and irreversible decision. Larkin has done a great service here in addressing that important technique for staving off poor decision-making when under the influence of depression or anxiety – just wait a moment. Okay? Now wait for five minutes. Great. Now another five. If we can extend those pauses out just enough, chances are the emotions will change, the pressure will pass and there is now a window of opportunity for help to be sought and given.
Apart from the general premise on which the book is based, Larkin has done a fantastic job of creating a main character that is, in a sense, an everyman, albeit a reasonably well-off and entitled everyman. Declan is a pretty ordinary teenager who is driven to what he does after the loss of what – in the moment – he believes is his true love. To an adult reader this might seem a bit over the top, but I think Larkin has pitched this just right for reaching a younger audience, for whom events such as this really do seem like the end of the world.
I did find the tone of the writing to be a little didactic at times. After introducing the pivotal decision that Declan makes early in the narrative, the story splits into a hypothetical timeline in which Declan’s story is played out, with some interjections from the Declan who didn’t Pause (essentially, Declan the dead). These interjections are good reminders to the reader, but are of the “Isn’t Declan’s life going well? Oh wait, it’s not, he’s really dead” variety which seemed a little too crudely executed for my tastes.
While I did generally think Declan was a likeable and relatable character there were a few events in the book that made me dislike him, and thus reduced my sympathy for him considerably. Firstly, his mum is a bit of a self-righteous pill who spends pretty much the whole book being rude and dismissive to her husband, while encouraging her son to do the same. Then about halfway through the book , there is a scene in which Declan complains about the overseas holidays that his father makes them go on. It was at this point that I actually said out loud (to a few odd sideways glances) “Oh you don’t like going on a free annual overseas holiday? Allow me to call you a waaaambulance! Would you like some cheese with that (white) whine?”
Needless to say, it did shift my perspective on Declan away from “suffering teen who needs care and assistance” and toward “entitled North Shore wanker who needs a good kick up the arse”.
There are two things that this book does that sets it apart from other books about teens getting over mental health issues. Firstly, it projects Declan’s hypothetical timestream way into the future. The imagined storyline doesn’t just end with Declan getting over the issues that caused his breakdown and (possible) suicide, but pushes things out even further to hypothetical-Declan in his 20s. I found this really original as it gives a sense of how issues from around the time of his mental breakdown affect his life as an adult.
The other unusual thing that this book does, compared with others of its ilk, is address the issues that the adults in Declan’s life are having that contribute in part to Declan’s breakdown and the way in which he recovers. This allowed for growth from a lot of the characters in the book, rather than just the main character, which is often the case with YA books generally.
All in all, I felt that this is an important read for those in the target age bracket. While I didn’t enjoy it as much as I thought I would, and found some of the events a bit contrived, I did appreciate the originality of the format and concept and I think Larkin has produced a very readable narrative that is going to be a hugely helpful contribution as a conversation starter about mental health and suicide for young people and those who work with them.
If you are a teen or new adult, I would recommend reading it and passing it on to your friends. If you are an adult, I would recommend reading it and passing it on to your young people.
Until next time,