By Ekta R. Garg
July 12, 2017
Genre: YA fiction
Rated: Bookmark it! / 4 stars
A girl receives a suicide note from the older sister she adores and rushes to save her, only to realize it’s too late. As she fights to understand why her sister, a seemingly happy person, would take such drastic measures, she begins to follow a path of self-destruction and alarms her parents enough to send her to a grief camp. Author Kim Turrisi mines her own heartbreaking experience to bring to life the reality of a sibling committing suicide in the very real novel Just A Normal Tuesday.
Sixteen-year-old Kai Sheehan thinks it’s a regular Tuesday until she gets home from school and picks up the mail. In it she finds a letter addressed to her from her big sister, Jen. Curious, Kai opens the letter. Jen just had dinner with Kai and their parents a couple of days earlier. Why the need for the letter?
As Kai reads, she realizes Jen hasn’t just sent her a letter: it’s a final goodbye. Jen tells Kai to be strong, to go forward with all her plans for life. To wear anything but black at the funeral.
Despite her efforts to get to her sister’s apartment as fast as possible, Kai reaches there only to realize she’s late by two days. Jen had dinner with the family and then went home and made her choice. Something drove her to make an irrevocable decision that will change Kai’s life forever.
Kai and her parents spiral out from one another in their grief as they struggle to understand just why Jen would do this. Jen’s friends, too, have no answers. No one can remember Jen ever appearing overly sad or upset. From what anyone can gather, she didn’t undergo any traumatic life experiences. So what would make her just give up and kill herself?
For Kai the burden of her sister’s death becomes too much. She begins to find solace in stolen prescription drugs and alcohol. Her two best friends, TJ and Emily, cover for her for a while, but eventually they start worrying about Kai. Eventually the truth comes out, and Kai’s parents make a decision: they’re sending Kai to a special camp for grieving teens.
At first Kai resents her parents for shipping her off. What do they know about losing a sister? And do they actually think sending her away is going to fix anything?
As Kai gets to know the other campers, some older, some younger, she discovers grief wears many faces. Someone has lost a parent; someone has lost a grandparent. Others have lost siblings like her. The kids at camp may come from different backgrounds, but all of them know what it’s like for parts of their hearts to be missing. If she’s ever going to learn how to move forward after Jen’s death, Kai will need to stay open to love and whatever form it takes.
Author Kim Turrisi shares in a note that she wrote Just A Normal Tuesday from personal experience. When she was a teen, her sister committed suicide. That painful experience allows Turrisi to give the most authentic voice possible to Kai and her pain. Instead of dressing up Kai’s grief in poetic phrases, Turrisi lets Kai express herself in some of the plainest language possible.
“I dread the sound of the locking dead bolt on the front door as my father seals us all inside,” Kai says after Jen’s funeral. “The finality is undeniable. The population of our family is now officially three.”
Later, as Kai argues with her parents, she doesn’t shy away from trying to guilt them into letting her get her way. “It’s not my fault that Jen killed herself,” she says. “I shouldn’t have to pay the price.”
At times, too, Kai’s thoughts compress into single words that say everything.
“Mad. Sad. Resentful. All colliding.”
When she’s dealing with the fallout from Jen’s death, Kai’s time at the grief camp comes across as just as authentic. Some of her interactions with the other characters feel a little less so, but the flip-flopping Kai does between emotions can also be attributed to the face-slap reality that grief causes without a moment’s notice. Turrisi’s commitment to the story, in any case, never wavers and carries Kai to the end.
Anyone who has dealt with the suicide of someone close or who knows someone contemplating the act would be well advised to read this book. I recommend readers Bookmark Just A Normal Tuesday.