Where the light goes by Sara Barnard

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There’s no way to sugar-coat it... this is a book about youth suicide; the grief, anger and confusion that follows for those left behind.

Lizzie Beck, lead singer of the girl band The Jinks, is dead at 21 from suicide and Where the Light Goes is her younger sister Emmy’s processing of this, through the compilation of diary entries, interviews, tweets, newspaper articles, emails, texts and WhatsApp messages.

Written for the YA reader, this book is beautifully designed and creatively typeset, using the appropriate formats for the different types of entries.

In over 40 ‘chapters’ Emmy wrangles the often contradictory memories and images she has of the public persona of celebrity Lizzie and the protective older sister, Beth. She records the first three months following Lizzie/Beth’s death, in which she deals with tensions at home, various responses from the public, and attempts by her friends to support her. She documents her roller-coaster of emotions and behaviours, many of which she later acknowledges were poor choices, made in the grip of unrelenting grief.

Importantly, Barnard’s book also explores the pressures that the media and social media exert on those in the entertainment industry and tackles head-on, the potential mental health issues inherent in celebrity life.

Over the course of the book Emmy comes to better understand the pressures her parents are under, appreciates true friendships, and learns to toughen herself against other’s opinions. She recognises that Beth was not always deserving of her uncritical adoration, and begins to grow into her own version of herself, rather than continuing to play the role that her sister had created for her. 

Where the Light Goes addresses the many issues that stem from the topics of depression and suicide, and a resource list of support services is included, but unfortunately these are all UK based. It is cleverly constructed and its extremely engaging format will appeal to YA readers and hopefully encourage more conversation and reflection on these topics.

Themes: Suicide, Grief, Friendship, Celebrity, Family.

Margaret Crohn