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Papadima, M. (2019). Where reasons end: a novel. J. Child Psychother., 45(1):99-102.

(2019). Journal of Child Psychotherapy, 45(1):99-102

Where reasons end: a novel

Review by:
Maria Papadima

The essence of growing up

is to play hide-and-seek with one’s mother successfully (p.4)

It felt hard- nearly unbearable at times- to read this book; it has felt harder still to review it. Chinese American Yiyun Li’s Where reasons end is described as a novel, but this slim volume is in fact a semi-autobiographical attempt by the author to find words to capture what is surely one of the most unbearable experiences a parent can go through: the suicide of their adolescent child.

As I read and then reviewed this book I had in mind the stark facts forming its background. In 2017, acclaimed Chinese American author Yiyun Li published a memoir in essay form named ‘Dear friend, from my life I write to you’ (Li, 2017), describing her own breakdown and two suicide attempts, and the role of reading and literature in her life; an attempt to form a path out of her struggle. Tragically, soon after the publication of that book, Li’s 16-year-old son committed suicide. ‘Where reasons end’, published a few years later, is part of Li’s response, as a mother, to this unspeakable loss.

It is easier to immediately say what this book does not try to do, before discussing what it does do. Where reasons end is decidedly not an attempt by this mother to ‘mourn’, ‘reach closure’, ‘go through the stages of grief’. It does not seem to be an attempt to help move Yiyun Li further along the path of grief and mourning; far from it. She writes:

Since the moment I had learnt of the news I had not had a moment of doubt about the coldest and darkest truth befalling us: This real night is and will be a permanent part of our life (p.74).

Thus there is here no theory or description of grief and mourning, and no reprieve from what Li describes as a ‘conclusion so fatally inconclusive’ (p.33).

Nor does this book offer any reasons and speculations explaining the suicidal act. The title Yiyun Li chose- ‘Where reasons end’- underlines this refusal to speculate about reasons. The title rang painfully true to me, as someone working closely with suicidal adolescents.

[This is a summary excerpt from the full text of the journal article. The full text of the document is available to journal subscribers on the publisher's website here.]

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