Her Campus Logo Her Campus Logo
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at NYU chapter.

**CONTENT WARNING: This book and interview deal with the topic of suicide.**

Bringing a new perspective to an important, timely topic and written in Janice Lynn Mather’s signature soulful style, “Where Was Goodbye?” is a young adult novel about a teen girl searching for answers after her brother’s suicide. 

Karmen is about to start her last year of high school, but it’s only been six weeks since her brother, Julian, died by suicide. How is she supposed to focus on school when huge questions loom: Why is Julian gone? How could she have missed seeing his pain? Could she have helped him?

When a blowup at school gets Karmen sent home for a few weeks, life gets more complicated. Things between her parents are tenser than ever, her best friend is acting like a stranger, and her search to understand why Julian died keeps coming up empty.

A new friend, Pru, both baffles and comforts Karmen, and there might finally be something happening with her crush, Isaiah, but does she have time for either, or are they just more distractions? Will she ever understand Julian’s struggle and tragedy? If not, can she love (and live) again?

1IUhQ0sDjgFS3Tk 1gmGSd3pIt5bEnJYTcclvnBKUoGBpIUw4CsPFVxvNREuqma0j5CFaKaQjGx72w5Eh3aMpe9yrjJGO2vYW Bf6gp2wpCShgGICVOf BY2ue3n4 nLbQkq7glwhwTv

Janice Lynn Mather is a Bahamian Canadian author. Her first novel, “Learning to Breathe,” was a Governor General’s Award finalist, a Sheila A. Egoff Children’s Literature Prize finalist, shortlisted for the Amy Mathers Teen Book Award, an ALA/YALSA Best Fiction for Young Adults selection, an Amelia Bloomer Book List pick and a Junior Library Guild Selection. Her second novel, “Facing the Sun,” was an Amy Mathers Teen Book Award winner. Janice Lynn lives in Vancouver, British Columbia.

uAzJoNn7Kwn9i1LQNSZO30s4l7LnRdpwb7GS1nlceda9jNnnJKxITjXJitwmhikQsxF wRAqiJYpNSTHyzm8pKbka2d

In this interview I wanted to focus on how Mather felt writing about suicide and mental health issues in a YA setting, her personal writing process and how she sees herself in her characters. 

What was it like to write about the serious topic of suicide in the YA genre that often publishes lighthearted stories like romcoms and coming-of-age stories?

I’m having a flashback to me as a teen, hearing the word bubbly used to describe an overly perky person, and thinking a sharp pin could take care of that. So perhaps my frame of reference for adolescence is a little skewed away from the light-hearted.

In all seriousness, I was often frustrated as a teen at the expectation that I should act a particular way—that I should be cheerful, or that I should want to go clubbing simply because I was young. I remember sitting in my English class in high school and our teacher, who was a truly lovely person, looking at me out of the blue and saying to the entire class, “There’s so much anger in you.” I wasn’t angry (at that moment anyway), but I was frustrated, confused, annoyed and sometimes depressed. I was also silly, joyful, and prone to falling in love, but I found it annoying when I was expected to be only those things, or when adults were needlessly ill at ease with the less effervescent emotions and realities of my life. 

Teens are diverse, complex, and incredibly keen observers. It’s an honor to write stories that acknowledge the world’s complexity and adversity, and to reflect on the strength young people bring in living through these truths.

How do you think Karmen grew to learn more about herself after Julian’s death? How do you think this could apply to readers who are perhaps struggling with grieflike Karmen is?

Through the story, as Karmen starts to find more and more closed ends in her search for clear answers as to why Julian was struggling, she begins to get desperate. First Karmen’s using Julian’s school bag. Then his skateboard becomes important. I don’t want to give the story away, but you can see where her grief, her struggle for knowledge and her confusion begin to blur lines with her sense of self. There’s less time for Karmen things as she’s carrying so much trying to understand and grieve and just exist without Julian. At the same time, it’s a story of carrying on, and in that way, it’s a story of hope for Karmen. 

I think Karmen comes to learn that she can continue to live even in the face of terrible tragedy. She’s never experienced pain like this, so she doesn’t know what she’s able to bear, and how she can do it. 

It’s tricky—I never want readers to leave a story in more pain than they went in, and at the same time, it’s important to me to be true to the accuracy of adversity. But struggling readers know all too well that it’s painful. I hope they can see, through Karmen, that there are loving people left in the world—and that there are ways to go on. I hope they see that they have company and understanding in their struggle.

Every author has a piece of themselves inside the books they write. How do you think this applies to you for “Where Was Goodbye?”

“Where Was Goodbye?” has more of me in it than I would like. I lost my own son soon after his birth in the fall of 2020—which was when I was about to begin writing the bulk of this novel. 

I had the idea for Karmen’s and Julian’s story late the year before. It was before Covid, before lockdowns, before George Floyd was murdered, before I lost my own son. I thought people make it through incredibly hard things. And yet they’re still here, walking around, going to school, eating dinner, shopping. How do they do that? Then it became how do we do that? 

I poured a lot of my exhaustion, frustration,grief,unanswered questions and rage into Karmen. She and I walked together. We still do.

During your research and drafting process, were there details or facts that you wanted to include about suicide that people don’t consider?

I think it’s a uniquely sensitive and charged topic. There are people who are antagonistic and judgmental towards a person who has died by suicide. Even the language many of us use reflects this—including myself, until recently. The first feedback my editor gave me on the topic was to correct language I was familiar with—the word committed. The term is still often used, but it’s is now thought of as harmful, and the updated language is died by suicide, which I wasn’t aware of four years ago.

I was fortunate to speak with Karen Letofsky, the leader in Canada’s leading suicide prevention and crisis support work, and she helped me greatly in my understanding of this topic. 

On the other hand, I spent hours combing through newspaper articles covering suicides in The Bahamas—this seems to vary in different countries, but there, deaths by suicide are commonly covered by the media, sometimes with quite a bit of detail. I was already aware of commentary from various folks in the public sector that sometimes weighed in on the act of suicide with a lot of judgment and frankly, a lot of heartlessness.

It’s hard to say what people might not know or consider about suicide because understanding and experience and knowledge of language varies so greatly. A reader might come to the book already sensitive to suicide, or they might come from a home where suicide is spoken of as a sin, or as a crime, or as an act of cowardice. 

The biggest thing I wanted to weave into the story was the breadth and depth of Julian’s struggle, how deeply he was loved, and how little his death was a choice. I can’t say how frequent hardened views toward suicide are, but I hope those readers who come to the book with that view are able to leave it seeing how he struggled, and that they can think of death by suicide as the tragedy of suffering that it is. I hope they are able to come away with empathy.

 This book surrounds a real and sensitive topic that may have been emotionally exhausting to write at times. Were there any specific scenes or details where this happened to you that you knew you just had to write anyway? Why did you feel you had to write these moments?

Some of the hardest parts to write were actually those pauses in grief, where Karmen has a few moments or minutes of enjoyment, of feeling like she did before Julian’s death—especially her escapes with Isaiah. In a way, they were much-needed breathing space. But she does have to come down from them, and back into the reality of life without her brother. 

Those moments are really important in the story—to keep her story from feeling unrelenting, overwhelming, and hopeless, and I did want it to be a story that holds hope. The truth is that it can be incredibly hard to feel any sort of balance, any peace or happiness or joy in those early raw days of grieving—but it’s a necessity for moving forward, and carrying on. Karmen did—I do. If you’re immersed, you can too.

Thank you Janice Lynn Mather for answering my questions! Given the authentic sensitivity in this book, your answers were such a delight to read. As always, thank you Alex Kelleher-Nagorski from Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing for sending me this interview opportunity and a copy of “Where Was Goodbye?”

Sabrina Blandon is an English major at NYU with a minor in creative writing. Avid reader herself and literary advocate, she has interviewed over 60 authors from New York Times bestselling ones to debut authors for Her Author Spotlight blog series for Her Campus NYU and Her Campus Hofstra. She loves exploring everything New York City has to offer and is a major foodie.