The Pause won the 2015 Griffith University Young Adult Book Prize after its release earlier this year. I got to meet author, John Larkin, at the 2015 Queensland Literary Awards. Larkin’s intimate and confronting acceptance speech explained how he wrote this book to give young adults a language to discuss depression and other mental illnesses – something he saw a desperate need for during his own mental breakdown and hospitalisation.
But I didn’t give it a chance because the agony was too much, my nerve endings had ruptured, my sense of logic and scale had vanished. It was too much because I had no reference point. I called it quits on an impulse when all I had to do was ride it out until it had passed. And pass it would … I thought I would be stuck with this agony forever. But I had the wrong mixture of chemicals whirring around in my brain … My mind was broken. And when your mind breaks you need help. External help. Because the thing you rely on most to get you through the screaming darkness is the very thing that’s broken. And that’s where and why it all falls apart – page 40
The Pause is told from the perspective of 17-year-old Declan. When he attempts suicide, the narrative splits into two alternate realities Sliding Doors style: in the first, he dies and is stuck in purgatory; in the second, he pauses and eventually recovers from his depression with medical and psychiatric help.
Statistics published on Mindframe Australia’s website show that in 2013, suicide accounted for a total of 2,522 deaths in Australia. That is 6.9 deaths by suicide in Australia each day.
John Larkin uses this book to help break the stigmatisation around mental illness. He considers this to be especially important for young men who are less likely to be confident with communicating their difficult feelings. Without discrimination, The Pause shows the recovery process and demystifies the causes of suicidal thoughts. The result is a story that gives validation and hope to people who don’t know how to process or articulate their experiences. A lot of emphasis is placed on the importance of lasting connections with caring family members and friends. Declan has to learn to ask these people for the help he needs, rather than making the fatal mistake of thinking he’s a burden to the loved ones who would give the world to help him.
This book was written for people who aren’t big readers. Its cast of characters and plot cover easy-to-recognise cliches, successfully making the story palatable and entertaining. Young adult readers will love its Australian setting and constant authentic references to topics every Aussie kid will know by heart. It reminds of an Australian equivalent of Stephen Chbosky’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower. Perks – both the book and the movie – is a massive hit with the same demographic as The Pause, and deals with many of the same ideas, although without John Larkin’s clarity and focus.
I think that The Pause is essential reading. It delivers an unforgettable message and gives young adults, especially young men, the words to talk about their experiences of depression. My copy is now battered and dogeared at my favourite pages- nothing is more moving than reading a passage that expresses, validates, and puts into context something you thought only you felt. These aha! moments can save lives. I am grateful that John Larkin survived his own experience of depression to give us this incredibly important book.