Ontario author Christina Kilbourne’s 2007 book, Dear Jo, was about Internet predators. Her latest novel also tackles some serious themes, primarily depression and suicide. Detached tells the story of Anna, a talented teenaged artist who becomes unmoored following the death of her grandparents. The narrative focuses on Anna’s changing behaviour, failed suicide attempts, and efforts to hide her depression and suicidal thoughts from family and friends.
Kilbourne’s writing is strong; the novel is engaging, easy to read, and flawlessly alternates between the voices of the three narrators (Anna; her mother, Leslie-Marie; and Anna’s best friend, Aliya). Anna’s narration is particularly gripping, as she tries to understand why her grandparents’ deaths are hitting her so hard (we learn later there is a history of depression in her family).
Kilbourne delivers a gritty story that highlights the importance of friendship and family bonds, but there are reasons to feel conflicted about this novel. Once the problem is discovered, Anna’s depression is quickly treated and resolved. While one can appreciate the public service announcement to teens about looking out for your friends, and the notion that “it gets better,” the truth is sometimes recovery isn’t so easy. For many, depression is a lifelong battle. Some may feel that message is too heavy for a YA audience, but it’s worth acknowledging. Kilbourne’s novel runs the danger of giving teens the unrealistic expectation that if they (or a friend or family member) pop a few meds or go to a therapist a few times, their mental illness will simply vanish. Hopefully, what resonates with readers is that suicide is never the answer, and that there are people available to help on the road to recovery, however long it may take.