Fan Mail Wednesday #290: An 8th Grader Responds to THE FALL

Here’s a long, insightful one that an 8th-grader read for Health Class after reading The Fall.

 

Dear Mr. Preller,

Hey Mr.Preller! This is an 8th grader from O’Rourke Middle School in Burnt Hills New York. My name is _______, writing to you about the book you wrote called The Fall. Outstanding book by the way! I really enjoyed reading it. This book, as you obviously are aware of addresses a lot of health topics, such as suicide, online bullying and many more. These factors made it perfect for choosing as far as the book I had to read for health.

The topic that I would like to talk address first in this book is the suicide. This is a very sad and realistic tragedy, but I must ask, why do you think in your professional opinion that Athena would make that hateful gesture by making that game? That question was just out of curiosity, and I know that it sadly does happen in real life, but was there any specific reason that you were inspired to write that? I really hope that didn’t come off as rude, I meant it in the kindest way possible.

This book, I feel is important for young people to read because of a few reasons: First, a lot if kids who are in their teenage and adolescent years struggle with depression and being bullied and, unfortunately, contemplate suicide. Second, I think the pressures that today’s society put on kids makes them think of suicide because they think there may be an easier way out. Did you know that there is 1 in 65,000 kids ages 10-14 that die from suicide every year? And that Suicide is the 3rd leading cause of death for 15-24 year olds and 2nd for 24-35 year olds?

My mom works in a school with young children and there are a lot more kids each year that need support for mental health reasons. She talks to me about the pressures that school, even at a young age, and the rate of learning and expectations, puts a lot more pressure on kids today. Each year more and more kids need mental health support and we have to ask ourselves, why?? Is it the growing pressures of school and the expectations that school and home puts on us? Is it the online social media that is so relevant in kids lives today? Is it a combination of both? Everything is thrown into kids faces. Be better, work harder, have the most friends, or you will amount to nothing. These are important questions we need to ask ourselves and find some answers to.

Kids lives are much harder now than they were when my mom was in school. When she played a sport, you didn’t have to try out to play. You just played. Now if you don’t play a sport all year round, and travel on a team, you don’t get picked to be on a team. You also get told by coaches that you need to play all year to get good enough to amount to anything. What happened to playing sports for fun? And just to get outside, make some new friends and play a casual game? Is this added pressure adding to the stress and kids feeling like they just aren’t good enough?

There are so many ways kids can reach out for help. First, I think parents should limit the amount of social media that kids are exposed to. The more accounts they have, the more likely that they are to have someone bully them and do hurtful things. Online bullying, in my opinion is worse than face to face bullying. People that don’t even know you can bully you and there is no way to stop it, other than get off social media. At least with a face to face bully you can try to stand up to them. Second, I think schools need to be more involved with their students and get to know them more. Make connections. The more adult connections a student has, I feel, the less likely they will be bullied or be tempted to bully. Last, I think kids have to remember that school is such a small part of their lives. Once they walk through the high school doors at graduation, they get to start over. Who they were in high school does not matter at all. If they were a nerd, they were smart, and will get a good job and start a new life!!

Once again, I really like this book and I also enjoy the fact that the book is not too long, just around two-hundred pages is perfect for me! If I may ask, what do you think your favorite part of this book that you wrote was? I think my most favorite part of this book was definitely when Sam started to feel remorse for Morgan and started feeling bad that he missed an opportunity. I also feel that it was good in the sense that he felt that it was partially his fault, and in a way I think it kind of is. The reason I make this claim, is because not only did he take part in the bullying game started by Athena, but he also kind of dipped out whenever anyone was near him when he was with her, it was almost like he felt ashamed to be near her, or embarrassed to be near her. I feel that just because he didn’t want to be next on the bullying list he excluded her, which I feel partially lead to her death.

I am so glad that I get to express my feelings with the author of this amazing book himself! I would also like to express how I feel about the main character himself, I feel that he was a good kid, but I also feel that he was too little too late in the act of caring for this poor girl. Then after her death, he decided to visit the place of the her death and stand right where she stood, people who have the guts to do that typically care very much about the person, which is why I don’t understand. If he cared about her, then why did he wait until she was dead to show it? In my honest opinion about this book, I would rate it a ten out of 10. I think this book deserves an award, just because it displays real world problems, and serious health topics that need to be addressed nowadays. I think that Sam’s biggest character strength, was his sympathy, although he was too late with his sympathy, he stilled showed it even though Morgan was deceased.

I also want to help people I know by telling them if they ever need someone to talk to, the suicide prevention line is always open for someone to listen. They can be reached at 1-800-273-8255. I hope my letter prompts some good discussions about the topic of suicide in your book.

Yours truly, Gabriel

I replied: 

Dear G,

I’m so glad you read The Fall.

I was inspired to write that book for a couple of reasons. I had already written Bystander, which took a look at bully-related issues. While not a sequel, I do see The Fall as something of a companion book, a further exploration into that specific darkness.

I’ve never felt comfortable with putting the label “bully” on any young person. Bullying is a behavior, a verb, not a person, not a noun. We are all complicated people, with countless characteristics and attributes. No person can be accurately labeled and put in a box: THE BULLY. We are many things. Walt Whitman: “I am large, I contain multitudes.” Friend, teammate, pet owner, son, poet, etc. Usually a so-called “bully” is a good person who is making some poor decisions. I believe we are more than our worst act.

So, there was that, the nagging idea that I wanted to give a sympathetic look at someone who bullied another person. Sort of rescue him from that narrow stereotype. Try to show the complexity of the issue, how a “good kid” can do a bad thing.

Then, one unforgettable day, I read about a 12-year-old girl who had committed suicide by jumping off a tower. The report stated that she was “absolutely terrorized” on social media. I immediately ached for that poor girl, her friends, her family. But I also thought of all those kids who wrote mean things to her on the internet, life’s little cruelties. Now they had to live with the consequences of those words. The things they did and didn’t do.

In my entirely fictionalized book, I didn’t try to explain the full reasons for Morgan’s suicide. I don’t think we ever really know why someone takes that final step. A chemical imbalance? Deeper issues at home? Bullying at school? It’s so hard to say. And, ultimately, I decided that wouldn’t be the focus of this book. I mostly wanted to tell Sam’s story, how he comes to “own” his actions, take responsibility. The book surprised me because, at the end, it becomes a meditation on the nature of forgiveness.

You are right that Sam fell short. Too little, too late. I think he tried his best to do the right thing. Life is hard, difficult, full of pressures, and we all make mistakes. I respect the process Sam went through on his own, with his journal, to honor, and remember, and account for Morgan.

Your mother makes a great point about anxiety and the pressures that so many young people seem to be experiencing. It’s hard to understand where, exactly, that comes from and what we can do to help.

G, your letter clearly demonstrates the work of a bright, active, perceptive mind. I was very impressed with it, and I’m grateful to have found a reader such as you. I fear that I failed to address all of the many ideas included in your letter, but hopefully you’ll be satisfied with this response.

Have a great summer! And look for my new book, Blood Mountain, coming this October. My wife says it’s my best book yet. I think she’s right!

James Preller

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