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Empathy Reading: the Best Novels About Suicide

The tremendous success of the book and Netflix series “13 Reasons Why” has shown us that there’s a hunger for literary explorations of suicide. Perhaps this is because the world grows more complicated all the time, and fiction offers a safe distance from which we can investigate this looming topic. For Suicide Prevention Month, we’ve assembled a list of novels about suicide that, while not all explicitly healing, provide clarity and, above all, solidarity.
  1. 1
    A Long Way Down Book Cover Picture
    A Long Way Down Book Cover Picture

    A Long Way Down

    by Nick Hornby

    It’s London on New Year’s Eve, and four strangers find themselves on top of a building with the same plan: to commit suicide rather than sing “Auld Lang Syne.” The coincidence inspires them to form a ragtag support club — a gloomy sort of “Breakfast Club” — and the results are both witty and deeply felt in this 2005 novel from Nick Hornby.
    A Long Way Down Book Cover Picture
    A Long Way Down Book Cover Picture

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  2. 2
    The Sorrows of Young Werther Book Cover Picture
    The Sorrows of Young Werther Book Cover Picture

    The Sorrows of Young Werther

    by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

    If Goethe had come of age today rather than the late 1770s, he might have been a Goth singer or Instagram star. Instead, he wrote this epistolary novel that is reportedly a thinly veiled account of his own painful youth. About a sensitive artist who is so disappointed by life and love that he plans to take his life, it is widely and deservedly lauded as one of the greatest German novels of the era, and, with its hand-wringing expressions of unquenched passion, a precursor of the Romantic movement.
    The Sorrows of Young Werther Book Cover Picture
    The Sorrows of Young Werther Book Cover Picture

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  3. 3
    The Awakening Book Cover Picture
    The Awakening Book Cover Picture

    The Awakening

    by Kate Chopin

    This list would hardly be complete without Kate Chopin’s seminal feminist novel about an 1890s New Orleans wife and mother who does not know how to live when she falls in love with another man. As a testament to the disruption female desire poses to traditional society, it lives right up there with Madame Bovary. Chopin’s sympathy for her subject — female desperation — is profound.
    The Awakening Book Cover Picture
    The Awakening Book Cover Picture

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  4. 4
    All the Bright Places Book Cover Picture
    All the Bright Places Book Cover Picture

    All the Bright Places

    by Jennifer Niven

    When Finch and Violet meet on the ledge of the bell tower at school—six stories above the ground— it’s unclear who saves whom. Soon it’s only with Violet that Finch can be himself. And it’s only with Finch that Violet can forget to count away the days and start living them. But as Violet’s world grows, Finch’s begins to shrink. . . .
    All the Bright Places Book Cover Picture
    All the Bright Places Book Cover Picture

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  5. 5
    Hold Still Book Cover Picture
    Hold Still Book Cover Picture

    Hold Still

    by Nina LaCour

    Ingrid’s suicide immobilizes Caitlin, leaving her unsure of her place in a new life she hardly recognizes. A life without the art, the laughter, the music, and the joy that she shared with her best friend…. But Ingrid left something behind. In words and drawings, Ingrid documented a painful farewell in her journal. Journeying through Ingrid’s final days, Caitlin fights back through unspeakable loss to find renewed hope.
    Hold Still Book Cover Picture
    Hold Still Book Cover Picture

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  6. 6
    The Sense of an Ending (Movie Tie-In) Book Cover Picture
    The Sense of an Ending (Movie Tie-In) Book Cover Picture

    The Sense of an Ending

    by Julian Barnes

    This intense novel follows Tony Webster, a middle-aged man, as he contends with a past he never thought much about—until his closest childhood friends return with a vengeance: one of them from the grave, another maddeningly present. Tony thought he left this all behind as he built a life for himself, and his career has provided him with a secure retirement and an amicable relationship with his ex-wife and daughter, who now has a family of her own. But when he is presented with a mysterious legacy, he is forced to revise his estimation of his own nature and place in the world.
    The Sense of an Ending (Movie Tie-In) Book Cover Picture
    The Sense of an Ending (Movie Tie-In) Book Cover Picture

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