Sunday, February 14, 2010
Trigger by Susan Vaught
There are a lot of things that Jersey Hatch doesn't know. He doesn't know why exactly his best friend can't stand the sight of him, why his parents are acting so strangely, and he can't figure out just what must have happened that made him shoot himself. Everything he once knew about the year previous was wiped clean on the day that Jersey shot himself in the head with his father's gun. All Jersey knows now is that it's a challenge to walk, to talk, to think. He knows he has scars, that things will never be the same, and that he needs some answers to the questions no one will ask.
We meet Jersey upon his release from his final brain injury hospital. He's headed home to the real world, where life will be much harder. Immediately, we're captured by Jersey's sardonic narration that shows through the pieces of his personality that survived his injury at the same time as it shows how his thought patterns are terribly altered and difficult to focus after the fact. He mocks his mom and his doctor and their favorite repeated phrases, is haunted by the ghost of his former overachieving self, "Jersey Before," and rails against his minder at school, the unfortunately named Ms. Wenchel who he quickly nicknames "the Wench." Despite the brain damage that alters his way of thinking and makes his mind cluttered with all sorts of unrelated words that seem to get stuck in his thoughts and repeat over and over, Jersey's narration is clear-eyed and revealing of himself and of the people around him.
Vaught, a neuropsychologist by trade, has used her experience and expertise to write a terribly convincing story. Jersey is a compelling narrator and a sympathetic one. Despite the people he has hurt by trying to take his own life, Jersey's frustrations in bridging the thought to speech divide, his humiliation at his limitations, as well as his quest for the answers that don't come easily make it impossible for us not to feel his unbearable pain. Jersey's search for answers creates suspense that makes Trigger difficult to put down. Yet even as the plot moves toward its climax, Trigger asks us to consider suicide and its far-reaching repercussions and even forces us to consider, by way of Jersey's interactions, the variety of wrongheaded ways we "normal" people view and interact with the mentally handicapped ranging from fear and awkwardness to laughter to downright cruelty. So vivid and penetrating is this theme that cuts to the heart of our insecurities about our behavior around those that are "different" that even as I read it, I was unsure whether it was "right" or not to giggle at the absurd things that get stuck in Jersey's head that he repeats ceaselessly without meaning to, and whether I should feel bad if I did giggle.
Overall, Trigger is a profound, powerful, fast-moving story that asks all the right questions without ever resorting to preaching at us. Though marketed as YA, this book is well-worth reading for young and old alike.