The Burn Journals, Brent Runyon

Saturday, March 10, 2018

This year, my district has experienced three student suicides; two middle schoolers and a high schooler. As the number of teens experiencing mental health issues continues to rise, we in the school community are left to support our students the best way we can, while dealing with our own trauma, often without adequate numbers of counselors or social workers to help us all cope. This increase in rates of teen depression and anxiety has me searching for answers, answers to the questions that plague me on some of my sleepless nights; how can I make a positive difference in the life of my youth group members and my students so they never feel the utter despair that leads to suicide?

One way I try to find the answer is to read. Of course, that's my go-to for most things; no matter the question or need I always think, "There's a book for that". But I hope that by finding compelling stories of teenagers who attempted suicide but ultimately overcame their despair, I can point students towards the authors who will make them know they are not alone and that recovery is possible. One such book is The Burn Journals by Brent Runyon. When Brent was 14, he poured gasoline all over himself and lit himself on fire. The formerly excellent student had started to slip into some poor life choices, including setting a locker on fire. Sure he was going to be caught, he decided the only thing left to do was to die. With third degree burns over 85% of his body, he spent the next year in the hospital recovering from his injuries. While there, he was forced to confront the feelings that caused him to attempt suicide in the first place, and to try to fathom why he chose THAT method. The book details his long journey to wellness, both physical and mental.

Like many teen suicide attempts, this one is impulsive. Faced with disappointing his parents, Brent can only see one way out. Throughout his recovery, he goes back again and again to that one instant. Between the support of his brother, the love of his parents, and the amazing nurses who care for him, he begins to realize how much he has to live for. He decided to start writing The Burn Journals on the 10th anniversary of his suicide attempt. Over the year he had not shared much of his story with others, choosing instead to focus on his future, but with the anniversary he felt as though it was time to share his story, in the hopes of helping others see that there is always another way. Runyon's writing is straightforward, and he doesn't try to soften or minimize anything. I think that this book would be good to use in a classroom when discussing mental health, decision making, or perseverance. It could also be part of a unit on memoirs; the structure of the story and the amount of detail make it a good example of the genre.

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