On your impulse, swallow the bottle, cut a little deeper, put the gun to your chest.
The cover of Impulseis bright red and purple, reminding the reader of blood—the source of life and the source of death. Blood, life, death, depression, love, hate, lust, sex, are all recurring themes in this gritty, difficult to digest, heart-wrenching novel.
An unlikely friendship between three teens begins at Aspens Springs, a psychiatric hospital, a place they were all sent after their attempted suicides.
Conner, a teen from a successful wealthy family, aimed a gun at his chest and pulled the trigger after succumbing to the pressure for perfection that his distant and uncaring parents put on him. Vanessa drifts between blue and white as her bipolar disorder dictates, coming to the hospital because the only clarity she receives is when she “sees red” after cutting. Tony grew up with a mother who sold herself on the streets, ignoring his sexual abuse by one of her “boyfriends.” After years of being in juvenile detention and selling himself for food and drugs, Tony has attempted to end it all by swallowing pills and whiskey.
The format in which this critically acclaimed book is written is a free form of poetry, which is extremely effective in breaking up the flow and gives a “jagged” feeling to the book. This conveys an underlying uneasiness that the characters have with themselves, the lives that they hate, and the depression that weighs heavy on their hearts.
Mixed emotions go into writing this review. There is shock that young adults would be reading some of the content, including vulgar language, sexual encounters, self-inflicted pain, and violence. God, for some, is a distant figure and rarely personally involved in their lives. The parental relationships for all three of the main characters are at best strained or nonexistent.
On the other hand, this book can be a reminder that love (not just tolerance or material things) from parents makes a huge difference in the life of children and teenagers. All of the characters had emotionally deprived lives as children, which seemed to have a great effect on how they handled situations that came their way.
As a person who has journeyed in the darkness of depression, I find that relating to characters can help one return to the “light” and hold on to slivers of hope. Both in real life and in books and on television, there are characters who can serve as examples of hope when one is drowning. Impulse provides three characters with different backgrounds, psychological disorders, and home lives. As with anything that mirrors real life, one cannot give a diagnosis and expect the soul to heal from the wounds. The story is not tied up with a nice tight bow.
This book, content-wise, would not be recommended for teenagers. However, adults and parents would do well to remember that suicide, depression, self-harm, homosexuality, lust, and love are topics that we at times shrink from discussing with teens. Impulse is a reminder to step back for a little while from the rhetoric and what we are “supposed” to say—even if it is biblical—and try to understand the person struggling with these issues. Just stopping to listen shows that you care—even more so when you don’t rush to try to fix them or the problem they are facing. It’s not that we shouldn’t advise or give wisdom when it is needed, but we should also trust that people will make the right choices without being controlled. In the end, love covers a multitude of sins and is the healing balm to the deep hurts people are going through.
Image copyright Margaret K. McElderry Books. Review copy supplied by the publisher.
Esther J. Archer works in the IT Department for a Christian university. In her off hours, she can be found reading, knitting, and trying to figure out the last algorithm for the Rubik's cube.
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