Earlier this week I wrote a post about a few of my recent reads and commented that the book, What Made Maddy Run by Kate Fagan, deserved it’s own space. I am still not entirely ready to talk about Maddy but I guess I won’t ever be so here goes.
I read this book as part of a program launched at our middle school called Beyond the Book. Each month the group reads a book that thematically represent the mission and core values embraced at our school. Topics will include resilience, grit, inter-personal skills, the whole child and more. Our first book was What Made Maddy Run and our principal, vice principal and approximately twenty parents sat down to discuss it last week. If you are a long time reader of this blog, you will know that sadly, our middle school community experienced a suicide a year and a half ago so unfortunately, this book seemed like the right beginning place for our discussions.
What Made Maddy Run is the story of Madison Holleran and her death by suicide (a term I only learned after reading this book). Maddy grew up in Allendale, just a few towns away from Ridgewood. The descriptions of Maddy, her life and her surroundings are all eerily familiar. Maddy was a perfectionist. A student. An athlete. And a social butterfly. She seemingly had it all and wanted more. These phrases describe Caroline and Katherine to a tee along with practically all of their friends. We live in an area, that despite many parent’s efforts to the contrary, rewards, consciously or unconsciously, perceived success over happiness.
There are many things that I could write about Maddy and the experience of reading her story and talking about it with my peers. What struck me the most though were the conversations that I had with Caroline as she read What Made Maddy Run. And yes- I did let her read it although I was hesitant. I would strongly recommend you read it before your child but if you feel they are ready (and maybe even if you don’t) the conversations that came from jointly reading this book were worth the fear I had to experience in order to allow Caroline to read it. In case this helps… one thing we did talk about last week was that books, television shows and conversations about suicide do not plant seeds in our kid’s minds. Instead they create a safe place to discuss a scary topic.
When Caroline first started reading about Maddy she said something really important. I had underlined passages like “Words meant little. Only excellence helped chip away at self-doubt. And so she excelled.” Caroline’s comment to me was that she would have underlined different passages. She is not an underliner and I did not want to stop the flow of her reading so I’m still not sure where her focus lay. Of course, as a child, she would read this book differently than I did but we did take away one similar and very important message. Living in a world of social media had a huge impact on Maddy and how she lived with depression and anxiety. When she was about half way through the book, Caroline said, “Emoji’s killed Maddy.”
At first I was confused. She went on to say, “She was able to hide behind the haha’s and the lols and the emojis. It all didn’t seem so serious when she texted lol at the end of her messages.” Maddy did tell her friends and family that she was hurting. She told them something wasn’t right and they did everything they could to support her. They did not ignore her because she ended her texts with emojis but it is true that her messages may have read slightly differently because of them.
There is something super valuable in Caroline’s emoji comment. None of us are talking enough. And we are all hiding behind emojis and text shorthand. I am guilty of this personally and I have allowed the girls to both become very dependent on their phones. Fortunately, the girls still do talk to me, Rob and their friends face to face often but I know that there are times they don’t. I immediately thought back to text exchanges I have had where I have thrown in a haha or an lol myself to downplay the emotion in my message. And I know that I have felt relieved when Caroline has done the same.
Caroline did also say that a line that stuck with her revolved around Maddy’s mental illness. The message she mentioned was that we, as emotionally healthy people, will never be able to rationalize what Maddy did simply because we are emotionally healthy and Maddy was not. I am in awe of the access that Maddy’s family gave to Kate Fagan. Their openness allowed for this book to be written and I am grateful. Being able to talk openly about teenage anxiety and depression is huge. It is scary as can be that Maddy talked and her parents did all they could and she still died. I know though that by telling Maddy’s story, her parents have opened up conversations with countless children just like theirs. And I know because of these conversations, children like Maddy will be saved.
Thank you to the Holleran Family for sharing and to Kate Fagan for writing such a powerful story.