One evening, Jesse’s popular and good-looking boyfriend, Chris, disappears after a jog. Police think he has run away. Jesse worries about how Chris, one of the few black kids in the mill town, disappeared near an area where he’d been previously beaten up. Chris also vanished shortly after Jesse had said they should take a break from one another. Written in the form of a letter from Jesse to Chris, This is Not a Love Letter (Disney-Hyperion, January 2018) by Kim Purcell addresses racial tensions, class issues and how people can hide pain behind a smile. The storyline also is personal for Purcell, as she explained in our January issue of Growing Minds with this Q+A…
What was your inspiration for the novel?
This story sat inside me for years. Shortly before I graduated from high school, a close friend of mine, Al, an African-Canadian, disappeared while running along the river in our small, mostly-white mill town. Right away, we feared a hate crime, but some people also talked about his recent break-up, and how he was depressed. I joined others searching for him in the woods with Search & Rescue, but we didn’t find any clues. For three months, we had no idea what had happened. Then, his body was found in the river. It was during the time of waiting that this story was born. My life was on hold. I started to see my town, and in fact, my life, in a whole new way. That summer, I ran a lot. Al and I used to run together on the cross-country team, so every time I ran, I’d talk to him in my head.
I wrote this book as a long letter because I wanted to capture this feeling of how, when someone is gone, unexpectedly, it leaves a giant hole. We need to talk to them one more time.
What was your intention when writing about Chris’ death? What do you want readers to think about or feel?
I wanted to talk about guilt. The last time I talked to my friend, he stopped by our friend’s barbecue in the middle of his run, which I knew wasn’t normal. I told him to stay but didn’t ask him what was wrong. The guilt of this tore at me for years. I wrote this novel as a love letter to every kid out there who has lost a friend to suicide. Kids need to know that suicide is a result of mental illness and it isn’t their fault. I also wanted to speak to bias in all its forms, to write to those kids who face bias due to the color of their skin, their weight, their poverty, their sexuality or any of the external judgments people make. I wrote it for all those kids who feel alone in the world, who think that there’s something wrong with them, or who may be thinking about taking their own life. I want them to know it’s important to get help.
What do you like best about how the book turned out?
I like the voice of Jessie, her humor, her honesty and her bravery. I think she is like so many girls living in small towns, grappling with how to live in this difficult world. To me, she feels very real.
This Is Not A Love Letter
Kim Purcell | Disney-Hyperion Press | Hardcover | $17.99
Released Date: 1/30/2018