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Monday
Feb082016

Book Review: Help Me

Help Me. Donna M. Zadunajsky. Pronoun: December 29, 2015, Paperback, e-Book, Audiobook, 119 pages.

Reviewed by Suzanne M. Brazil.

Author Donna Zadunajsky’s novella, Help Me, is the harrowing story of bullying, depression, and their consequences as told by Mick, the victim, and his close friend, Layla. In her forward, the author discloses that the events in the book are based on real life with details changed to protect the identities of those involved.

Over the course of a few months during junior high, Mick and Layla grow close as part of a small group of friends that hangs out in person and via social media. Layla soon realizes Mick has been self-harming—cutting—and she soon fears things may be even more serious than that. One night, a particularly frightening incident spurs Layla to get adults involved, but did she wait too long?

Zadunajsky is a novelist and children’s book author who reveals in her dedication that she didn’t seek to provide answers to the tough questions raised by her story. She felt a need to reach out and encourage a conversation. She wisely provides a foreword to the book including links to resources and information on bullying, depression, and suicide.

Zadunajsky's strength is in conveying the emotions of the adolescents in her story. Mick and Layla are believable, relatable characters. It’s not that Mick has no friends; it’s just that for some reason he is a target for bullies. Layla isn’t a savior character, either. She is flawed and as one might expect for a young girl, unsure how dealing with Mick’s situation will affect her own life.

The reader feels Layla’s concern for her friend, her indecisiveness about getting her mother involved, and ultimately her fear that this is too much for her to handle. Likewise, Mick’s despair at being bullied and feelings of guilt about an incident in his past elicit empathy. Though not especially graphic, bullying, cutting, and suicide are difficult topics to read about, and adults should definitely preview the book to decide if they’re comfortable with their children/students reading it.

The alternating points of view provide heightened tension and suspense as we turn pages to find out what becomes of Mick. The narrative does suffer at times from repetition of extraneous details, and occasionally, character’s thoughts seem a bit older than their actual ages. Overall, YA readers, parents, and teachers may all gain insight from Mick’s situation and realize the importance of a friend like Layla.  

For an age-appropriate audience, the author has provided an opportunity for discussion about a frightening epidemic among adolescents.

 

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