“I’m okay”: Resilience & Depression in Cindy L. Rodriguez’s When Reason Breaks

By Sonia Alejandra Rodriguez

I’m guilty of always saying “I’m okay,” even when I know I am not. Often times, it seems easier to lie than to explain the depths of what hurts. It also seems more appropriate to suck it up than to admit I’m not as strong as I appear. Saying “I’m okay” when I am not is also a way to mask the shame I feel for feeling depressed when I know others have it worse. As Cindy L. Rodriguez explains in her blog post, “Depression in YA and the Latin@ Community,” depression is often associated with trauma and feeling depressed because you’re simply depressed rarely seems like a good enough reason. While causes and effects of depression vary tremendously, I have found that the stereotypes about depression are consistent. The stigma alone associated with depression has made it difficult for folks to speak openly about the issue. Because of this I wasn’t surprised that depression, including suicide attempts and suicide, isn’t a topic that is directly addressed in Latina/o children’s literature.

Tommy Stands AloneThe first book I encountered where a Latino character attempted suicide was Gloria Velasquez’s Tommy Stands Alone (1995). Tommy struggles with coming out as gay because his family and friends are not supportive, and in a moment of desperation, he overdoses on pills and alcohol. At the same time that I came across Velasquez’s book, I was also reading media articles about Dr. Luis H. Zayas’s research on Latina teen suicide attempts which connected suicide attempts to difficulties assimilating to dominant American society. In their March 2010 issue, Latina Magazine published an article that presented Zayas’s findings and discussed the ways in which Latina teens have a more difficult time assimilating because of their immigrant parents’ traditional values. While at the time I found the article to be important and informative, I was very hesitant about placing the blame for suicide attempts on the parents. Zayas has made it clear that there are various reasons why Latina teens attempt suicide and that his specific research has shown that one of the reasons is the tension between the two cultures.

What I feel is missing from an understanding of Latina/o teen suicide attempts and suicide rates is a discussion of how racism and other histories of oppression have made it difficult for these young teens to stay alive. In other words, while parents and families can certainly be a factor in one’s depression, I am weary of saying that Latino youth are depressed and/or attempting suicide because of their families. In this light, depression becomes racialized and parents become a source of otherness. In reading Velasquez’s young adult novel and Zayas’s research, I became interested in the ways that depression is understood as an individual problem rather than addressed as a community issue. Understanding depression as a personal problem also questions one’s resilience; furthermore, one’s ability to overcome depression becomes a signifier for their value.

I was definitely excited to learn that Cindy L. Rodriguez’s debut young adult novel, When Reason Breaks, addresses issues of depression and suicide attempts. Rodriguez’s novel adds to a much needed discussion on depression and Latina/o children’s literature. There are certainly various aspects of the novel to love, but I found the ambiguity of which character attempts suicide to be the most intriguing. When Reason Breaks (2015) tells the story of the uncanny connection between two seemingly different teenage girls. Elizabeth Davis develops a gothic like edge after her parent’s separation. Her new attitude often puts her at odds with her mother, teachers, and peers. Emily Delgado hangs out with the popular crowd, her teachers like her, and her family is well off. Her anxiety, however, gets the best of her and she begins to retreat from those around her. Elizabeth and Emily are forced to engage one another when Ms. Diaz pairs them up for an English project on Emily Dickinson. As the novel develops, Ms. Diaz begins to receive letters from a student describing feelings of depression and uncertainty until she finally receives a suicide note.

Elizabeth’s and Emily’s characters are an opportunity to discuss stereotypes associated with depression. The assumption is that Elizabeth is the one that attempts suicide because she has something to be depressed about—her parent’s divorce. At first, this traumatic event makes those around her sympathetic to her situation. Over time, though, people begin to lose patience with her, which is apparent by how often her mother scolds her and how frequently she’s sent to visit the school counselor. Elizabeth is an excellent example of what I mean by a person’s ability to overcome depression can determine their value. Because it appears that Elizabeth is not getting any better with time, those around her begin to read her as “troubled” and more likely to be trouble. Her behavior is policed and what could be read as typical teenage behavior, such as challenging authority and talking back, are sources for dismissal and punishment. While it’s obvious that Ms. Diaz is a concerned teacher, she, nonetheless, polices Elizabeth’s behavior based on the assumptions that the school counselor has made about Elizabeth and her depression. These assumptions made it difficult to see that it was another student that was really the one in danger. In contrast, Emily gets overlooked because she does not publicly exhibit signs of depression nor does she have a valid enough reason to be depressed. No one questions Emily’s mental health when she begins to pull away from those around her or when she misses homework assignments. Instead, her friends make light of the pressure she feels from her father to perform a certain level of Latino conservatism to protect his political career. That pressure is not recognized as a valid enough reason to feel depressed, much less a reason to attempt suicide. It is Emily’s resilience, however, that allows her to hide her depression and go unnoticed.

You're Lying graphicI read Emily’s resilience as being motivated not necessarily by her desire to overcome depression but her desire to hide it. Her father’s political position is certainly a main reason why she needs to keep it together, but it is also her mother’s silence that makes it difficult for Emily to express her own feelings. Emily’s performance of resilience is a strategy that I believe many people dealing with depression employ—especially if what makes one depressed is not recognized as a worthy reason for being depressed in the first place. Resilience serves as a way for Emily to protect herself from being ostracized the way that Elizabeth is because of depression. Emily expresses concern that if she were to divulge that she struggles with depression that too many people will get involved and ask too many questions. Because of this it is easier to simply say “I’m okay.” This resilience, however, almost costs Emily her life.

When Reason Breaks further presents the opportunity to discuss the impact depression has on families and communities. Ms. Diaz reveals that she, too, struggled with a traumatic situation. At the end of the novel, even Elizabeth’s mom opens up about her feelings and is able to reconcile with her daughter. Furthermore, the novel reveals that it takes a community to support someone with depression on their journey toward healing. Addressing depression as a community breaks the silence on this issue and expands notions of what depression is, what it looks like, who gets it, and what can be done about it. Elizabeth and Emily’s struggle with depression also demonstrates that it is likely that there are others close to them that may also be dealing with depression. Even though Emily’s mother is not a major character in the novel, there are specific moments where her behavior and silences suggest that she also struggles with her emotions. Novels like When Reason Breaks demonstrate the importance of generating dialogues in our communities about depression and the various ways that depression affects us all.

 

headshotSonia Alejandra Rodríguez has been an avid reader since childhood. Her literary world was first transformed when she read Rudolfo Anaya’s Bless Me, Última as a high school student and then again as a college freshman when she was given a copy of Sandra Cisneros’s The House on Mango Street. Sonia’s academic life and activism are committed to making diverse literature available to children and youth of color. Sonia received her B.A. in English from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She is currently a PhD candidate at the University of California, Riverside, where she focuses her dissertation on healing processes in Latina/o Children’s and Young Adult Literature.

Book Birthday: WHEN REASON BREAKS

By Cindy L. Rodriguez

Reason Breaks Blended CollageToday is the official release day of When Reason Breaks, my debut young adult contemporary novel published by Bloomsbury! Yay! The novel is about two girls, both sophomores in high school, who struggle with depression in different ways. Here’s part of the official description:

A Goth girl with an attitude problem, Elizabeth Davis must learn to control her anger before it destroys her. Emily Delgado appears to be a smart, sweet girl, with a normal life, but as depression clutches at her, she struggles to feel normal. Both girls are in Ms. Diaz’s English class, where they connect to the words of Emily Dickinson. Both are hovering on the edge of an emotional precipice. One of them will attempt suicide. And with Dickinson’s poetry as their guide, both girls must conquer their personal demons to ever be happy.

To celebrate my journey, which started seven years ago, I’m sharing some pictures I took along the way.

 

IMG_3086This first picture represents the writing, revising, and editing phase done alone and then with critique partners. It took me three years to write the draft that I used to query agents. Yes, that’s a long time, but I was working a full-time job and a part-time job, while single-parenting. My writing place is on my bed, and without fail, my dogs–first Rusty (RIP) and now Ozzie–have kept me company. This has been very sweet, except for the times they pawed the keyboard. Notice the guilty look in his eyes.

 

 

 

IMG_1294I landed an agent, Laura Langlie, after a few months of querying. I revised based on her feedback, and then the manuscript went out on submission. It stayed out there for a long, long time. We received some valuable feedback after the first round, so I revised again and went back out on submission. Finding the right agent and editor is kind of like literary Match.com. You might go on lots of dates that don’t work, but that’s okay, because the goal is finding the perfect person. So, it took a long time, but the book landed with the perfect person, Mary Kate Castellani at Bloomsbury. This is a picture of the manuscript next to my contract. Receiving the contract is one of those “oh-my-goodness-this-is-happening” moments. At this point, the deal had already been announced online, but seeing the contract in black-and-white makes it real.

 

IMG_4414AHHHHH! ARCs. This was a big moment. I didn’t taken any pictures during revising and copy editing. They wouldn’t have been pretty. But, please know that a lot goes on between the previous picture and this one (major understatement). After revisions, the manuscript went to copy edits. That day was significant because it meant drafting, for the most part, was over. Changes could still be made, but the story moved from creation into production. I received a blurb from the amazing Margarita Engle, and the cover was revealed. Soon after, these beauties arrived at my house. And AHHHHH! ARCs! Even though I had seen all the pieces–manuscript, blurb, cover art–it was different seeing it all put together in book form.

 

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The ARCs went on tour to other authors debuting in 2015, friends, and family. I also gave a couple away on Goodreads. This was the copy that went to the first winner, Ali. I have signed thousands of things, but this was the first time I signed a copy of my novel. Around this time, the book was listed on Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other places and became available for pre-order. Holy wow!

And people were actually reading the book, which, of course, was always the goal, but as ARCs went out and reviews popped up, I became aware that what had once belonged to me–what had only existed in my head and heart–was really out in the world. Here is photographic evidence of actual reading going on.

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image_3Now that ARCs were out in the world, I considered ways to help market the novel. One thing I learned from other authors was that I had to do my part when it came to marketing. I didn’t go overboard with swag. I decided to create a book trailer and print book marks and postcards with a QR code linked to the book trailer.

The book trailer was a fun, family experience. My sister’s dining room table was the work station, with my image_2nephew–a high school freshman–doing all of the real tech work. He’s a genius with computers, so he handled putting it all together. The opening voice belongs is my niece, and I narrate the rest of it, although my voice was altered to be lower and much cooler, in my opinion. Bookmarks have been distributed to teachers, librarians, and bloggers. Postcards went to high schools, public libraries, and independent bookstores in Connecticut, in addition to some libraries and bookstores in other parts of the country. Writers always question “what works,” and I think the answer is different for each of us. Bookmarks worked for me because I’m a teacher and I have lots of teacher friends who asked for 50-100 at a time. I knew they’d get into the hands of teen readers. Also, I have received some positive feedback from the postcards. A few librarians emailed me saying they received the post card, viewed the trailer, and planned to order the book; some even invited me to participate in events. So, in my mind, these three things were worth it.

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While the ARCs were “out there,” the manuscript continued to be worked on through copy editing and then first pass pages, which should be called the 100th pass pages because everyone involved had read the manuscript so many times. First pass pages are cool because the manuscript is typeset, rather than being on regular paper in the standard 12-point Times Roman. After the first pass pages were returned to the publisher, the next time I saw my novel, it was in……..

 

 

 

HARDCOVER!!!

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These came earlier than expected, so I was surprised when I found them on my doorstep. My daughter hugged me and said, “Wow, Mom, they’re beautiful. Congratulations.” I might have gotten a little teary eyed. That day, I donated a copy to my local library and then brought copies to my family. My mom cried when she saw it. My mom doesn’t cry easily. I might have gotten a little teary eyed then, too.

During this last month before publication, I’ve been excited and nervous and, most of all, grateful. Thank you to everyone who has been involved in this process. It takes a village to write and publish a book, and because of everyone who supported me along the way, I saw my novel on a shelf in Barnes & Noble for the first time this past weekend. Wow!

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Available at:

Indiebound Barnes & Noble | Amazon Powell’s Book Depository | Books-A-Million | Target

And please look for it at your local libraries.

Depression in YA and the Latin@ Community

By Cindy L. Rodriguez

You're Lying graphicWhen I was 23 years old, I left Connecticut for Boston for what should have been an amazing experience. I had been recently hired to be a researcher for the Boston Globe’s award-winning investigative team, a dream come true for a young journalist. Over the next two years, however, depression slowly ruined me, although many people close to me never knew. I wrote about it for the Courant years later, when my mind was clear enough to make sense of it. Here’s an excerpt from that article:

“It was a rainy February night in 1997 when it became apparent that the depression was no longer a temporary emotion, but a disease that had invaded every part of my life. I had gotten into my car after work and cried all the way home. I can’t remember why. But I remember feeling like I was choking, like every nerve in my body was numb, like someone was squeezing my heart and everything good inside of me had been twisted around. I remember feeling hopeless.

“I knew then that this thing eating away at me would not just go away. For a long time, I was convinced it would. I believed that the admirable traits I inherited from those before me, like frankness and humor, would overpower this flaw.

“But days and months had blurred into more than a year. Fatigue had seeped into my bones and smiling became an effort — a false statement. I was tired all day and couldn’t sleep at night. I called into work sick with a flu I didn’t have. I pried myself off the sheets to make it in other days. My memory was deteriorating. I could listen to someone talk at length and not absorb a single word. I have no detailed recollection of certain events.

“Still, I thought the depression was situational. I was having a rough time at work, feeling beat-up emotionally and unappreciated. With my career being such a significant part of my identity, I felt shaken and unsure of my talents and abilities. Still, something inside of me was fighting back. I thought I could pull myself out of it.

“That February night, it was my mom who convinced me that this was bigger. That it was something that didn’t just belong to me — that I had inherited it. That it belonged to her and my grandmother before her. This was out of my control. ‘You are definitely depressed,’ she said. ‘Promise me you will see someone.’

“Six days later, I sat in a psychiatrist’s office, unsure of what to do exactly. Isn’t this a luxury for wealthy people? Or a necessity for people with real problems, like battered women? It was hard to justify needing this, being an otherwise perfectly healthy and successful 25-year-old. Yet, when I opened my mouth, a load of hurt poured out and the hour flew by.”

WhenReasonBreaks_CompTen years later, I was planning and drafting what would become When Reason Breaks, my debut novel about depression, attempted suicide, and the life and work of Emily Dickinson that releases February 10. While writing, I knew some readers would wonder why either of the two main characters–Emily Delgado and Elizabeth Davis–would want to kill herself. Nothing tragic happened to either of them. To some readers, none of their problems will be seen as good enough reasons to attempt suicide. They’ll want a big reveal moment: “Oh, she was (fill in the blank with a horrible experience). No wonder she’s depressed and suicidal. That’s a legitimate reason.”

When I was depressed, I didn’t think I had a right to be because, like my characters, nothing tragic had happened to me. I wanted to have a significant event, something I could point to and say, “Ah-ha, that’s the reason. If I address this one, obvious, horrible thing that happened to me, then I’ll be okay.” But I didn’t have that thing. Many depressed people don’t. And with the absence of something obviously wrong in my life, I pushed through the days for far too long, thinking what some people might think about my characters: my problems weren’t significant enough.

This kind of thinking can lead to tragedy because the depression goes untreated, which I’ve discovered happens often in the Latin@ community.

National health organizations report that Latin@s are at higher risk for depression than other minorities. Women experience major depression more often than men, and of students in grades 9-12, significantly more Latinas attempted suicide than their non-Latina peers. Yet, most Latin@s with mental health problems go untreated. A lack of access to affordable services and the stigma attached to mental illnesses are cited as barriers to treatment. Untreated depression can lead to suicide, which is the third leading cause of death for all people aged 15-24.

These statistics got me thinking about depression in young adult fiction, and I realized that in the books I’ve read, white characters are more likely to land on a psychiatrist’s couch. Most of the Latin@ characters in novels I’ve read fight through mild to severe depression without medical help, or they are somehow detained, in a treatment facility or group home, and the therapy is required. In When Reason Breaks, one of the main characters visits a doctor and gets medication, but doesn’t take it. She finally accepts real help after her suicide attempt.

As the Latin@ population continues to grow, I hope barriers are removed so that more Latin@s seek treatment for mental illnesses. I also hope more YA writers tackle the variety of mental illnesses and show characters of color getting help at some point instead of suffering through their pain. Maybe more teens will see themselves in these books and understand that their problems are significant enough, that they don’t need a “real reason” to feel the way they do, because in reality, depression is the real reason.

 

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255

National Hopeline Network: 1-800-442-4673

Suggested by book lovers online, here are some titles with Latin@ characters who struggle with different levels of depression.

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Cover Reveal for When Reason Breaks, a 2015 Young Adult Debut

By Cindy L. Rodriguez

I’m really excited to reveal the cover for my debut novel, When Reason Breaks, which will be published 2/10/2015 by Bloomsbury USA Children’s Books. I’m equally thrilled to share it here because one of the main characters is Latina and the first blurb the novel received is from the wonderful, generous, super-talented Margarita Engle.

Before you scroll down to see the cover, here’s a description of the novel:

A Goth girl with an attitude problem, Elizabeth Davis must learn to control her anger before it destroys her. Emily Delgado appears to be a smart, sweet girl, with a normal life, but as depression clutches at her, she struggles to feel normal. Both girls are in Ms. Diaz’s English class, where they connect to the words of Emily Dickinson. Both are hovering on the edge of an emotional precipice. One of them will attempt suicide. And with Dickinson’s poetry as their guide, both girls must conquer their personal demons to ever be happy.

In an emotionally taut novel with a richly diverse cast of characters, readers will relish in the poetry of Emily Dickinson and be completely swept up in the turmoil of two girls grappling with demons beyond their control.

An extra tidbit for any big-time Emily Dickinson fans: Almost all of the characters represent a real person from ED’s life. Emily and Elizabeth represent Dickinson herself, sharing personal traits and experiences. Tomás Bowles represents Thomas Wentworth Higginson and Samuel Bowles, two important men in ED’s life, etc. You’ll have to read more in the author’s note!

So, now for the cover……………

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Keep scrolling…(I was told to build suspense. Isn’t this suspenseful?)

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TA-DA!!!!

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I love it for lots of reasons! The dark and light, focused and unfocused elements symbolize what the characters experience with their emotional and mental health issues. Same with how the letters start out solidly colored and then fade. Not seeing the girl’s face is also perfect since it’s a mystery as to which of the two girls attempts suicide. And here is the full quote from Margarita Engle, which will be included in its entirety on the back cover:

When Reason Breaks is infused with a rare blend of suspense and sensitivity, despair and hope. The poetic spirit of Emily Dickinson shines through the gloom of daily struggles faced by modern teens, as they discover the possibilities where they dwell.”

I’m so excited to share my debut novel with the world–starting now with a giveaway! One winner will receive a signed ARC of When Reason Breaks. Click on the Rafflecopter link below to enter. I’ll choose a winner in a week!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

CindyRodriguez150For more information about me and/or my debut novel, check out my website. You can also find me here on the About Us page and on Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads.

When Reason Breaks is available for pre-order here:

Indiebound Barnes and Noble | Amazon Powell’s Book Depository | Books-A-Million