Debut author Charlotte Witvoet puts readers in the shoes of a teenage suicide victim and explores the aftermath on the world they left behind
There is a growing mental health crisis among American teenagers, but in popular literature those characters often get written off as side stories, if not invisible entirely. For young adult author Charlotte Witvoet, she put the struggling character front and center as her first book addresses the uncomfortable realities of the aftermath of mental illness and suicide.
In the book “Paint my Body Red,” 16-year-old Witvoet tells the story of Addelyn, a 17-year-old who has spent years battling depression and the myriad of self-destructive behaviors that coincide with it. After she comes out as gay and loses her key support systems, Addelyn commits suicide.
What follows is Addelyn’s perspective. In the wake of her death her family begins to fall apart with her father turning to alcohol, her sister turning to drugs, and her younger brother struggling to keep everything together.
“How would you respond to seeing your family discover your dead body?” Witvoet asks. “What would you feel if you had taken your own life and your father became an alcoholic because of it? And more than that, what would it take for you to redefine your worth?”
As Addelyn watches the impact of her death on her loved ones, she begins to question her old ideas of being worthless and burdensome while wishing she could help them through the grieving process.
For Witvoet, who has struggled with mental illness for her entire life, the story of Addelyn’s suicide and the aftermath hit close to home. She shares that it is her fond hope that others who see themselves in Addelyn are able to use the book to inspire them to speak up and seek help from family and friends instead of remaining on the journey alone. In the back of the book, she shares a list of 24/7 resources like the National Suicide Prevention Hotline, Crisis Text Line, The Trevor Project, and more.
“No matter how lonely or suicidal I was, the characters understood me in a way no one else could,” she shares. “It didn’t take me long to realize that the characters were me, different seeds of myself planted in the personality of each.”
Witvoet credits writing the novel with getting her through the most difficult times of her life and inspiring her to keep facing each new day. She plans to keep writing books that will go beyond entertainment and also have an impact on readers, making differences in their lives.
“I wrote the first paragraph for this book when I was thirteen and didn’t think I would live to see fourteen,” says Witvoet. “But now I’m sixteen, and it turns out writing this novel saved my life.”
“Paint my Body Red” was published through Joshua Tree Publishing based out of Chicago and is available for purchase on Amazon in Kindle and paperback formats.