How do you start a conversation with young adults about suicide? That’s the complicated task broached in Colorado Book Award winner Todd Mitchell’s latest novel, Backwards, which will be released Tuesday.
Suicide hits close to home for the Colorado State University instructor. Two CSU students he had personal connections to, as well as a close friend, have all made attempts at ending their own lives.
“To be honest this wasn’t a book that I chose to write, it was a book I felt I had to write,” said Mitchell. “I had been planning on writing a different topic. When all this happened I felt that I had to do something.”
The book is a gripping story about a “rider,” a teenage protagonist who wakes up trapped in the body of Dan, another main character who has just committed suicide. As time progresses, the rider actually goes back in time from Dan’s suicide.
“He needs to figure out why he’s there, what his purpose is, and what he can do to change things,” said Mitchell.
Mitchell says he found books and movies for young adults lacking when it came to addressing suicide.
“I noticed there were books that reinforced the suicide fantasy. This idea of ‘I’ll show them.’ The character kills them self and they did show them,” said Mitchell. “What I wanted to do was approach the issue in a completely different way that discouraged suicide while in the same way addressed the seriousness of the issue.”
It was from here, the desire for an uplifting and compelling narrative that the book’s title was born. As the author notes, “…the only way I could do that was to tell the story backwards.”
With this novel completed Mitchell now has a different understanding of how suicide should be approached. There is importance in reaching out, of intuitively sensing communication breakdowns in order to reach out to that person so that you can help.
“This is important to me as a teacher because quite often teachers are on the front lines of having a sense of what’s going on with people,” said Mitchell. “And all too often we second guess ourselves or don’t reach out and just ask someone are they OK?”
“It’s my hope too since these are difficult conversations that books like Backwards can be used to create that opportunity for the discussion which might not otherwise rise to the surface.”
You can read an excerpt of Backwards here [.pdf].
Todd Mitchell will host two book release readings in Northern Colorado:
Oct. 17, 7:30 p.m. Hatton Gallery, Visual Arts Building, Colorado State University, Fort Collins. Writer’s Harvest Benefit reading and celebration.
Oct. 19, 4 p.m. Anthology Books, 422 E 4th St Loveland.