At first, I had a guttural reaction to the comical approach in which the story was told, the honesty in which Delilah's grief was explored after her father kills himself and she is convinced it was murder. This is suicide/death; society tells us it's supposed to be serious . . . right? As someone with a progressive genetic disorder, I have come to learn that humor is key to survival. Slowly, Delilah grew on me, and I began to understand because - let's be real here for a minute - when the world decides to swallow you and unload a massive pile of hate karma, and things just keep getting worse and worse like in Delilah's world after her father dies, you start to lose it - pieces of yourself, bit by bit. Grief is not a pretty process. The heroine becomes unlikable. She becomes an annoying, crazy character, and it's kind of brilliant. I laughed, cried, was frustrated with her, wanted to hug her, kiss her, punch the cops, the insurance people, and all of the teachers and students in her way. My Father Didn't Kill Himself is a book for the soul.
Written from the perspective of two female teenagers' journals, author Russell Nohelty in no way held back. He was able to capture Delilah's and Alex's voice remarkably well. Each was distinct from the other and undeniably feminine and angsty. The language that I wouldn't expect in a young adult novel is what helps to make the writing honest. If you picked up a teenager's journal or heard them in private conversation, much of what was included is what you would see or hear. My only qualm would be that this journal was for a grade in school, and I don't think these particular girls would include the cussing; however, grief changes people, as it does Delilah, and as she changes, I absolutely believe she would not care and would, in fact, relish her teacher and the whole world reading her putrid words.
Turning the pages of Nohelty's My Father Didn't Kill Himself is akin to streaming every episode of the newest season of Netflix's newest TV hit. You could watch one episode, but they are all there taunting you, so really you can't watch just one, just like you can't read just one chapter from Delilah's and Alex's journals - I tried. Honestly, I wouldn't be surprised to see their adventures on the TV or big screen in the future as they read so. Delilah doesn't just accept that her father killed himself. She changes herself, her friends, and goes to great lengths to prove he was murdered, all in a journey, a personal grief journey that forever changes her life and those around her. Bodies, sanitariums, murder plots, and dances. Need I say more?
Nohelty has managed to take a delicate subject head on with humor, twists, and charm - something teens will find both appealing and identifiable, redefining and challenging what it means to be junior fiction. My Father Didn't Kill Himself completely obliterates past expectations of content, being taboo, or any sense of editing in regards to language and subject matter. As a reader, it is refreshing and a little jarring for every page to truly be unexpected. My Father Didn't Kill Himself is something remarkably rare, fresh, and honest.
An Interview with Author Russell Nohelty
Christina Brookman, Fanboy Comics Contributor: I'm intrigued as to the decision to label the book young adult. What audience are you intending and why?
Russell Nohelty: A big philosophy that governs my career is that I talk up to my audience. I think they are smarter than most other publishers and writers give them credit. Frankly, this is subject matter that needs to be talked about with teenagers but hardly ever is, and when it is talked about, it's in a candy coated manner. I wanted this book to be different. I wanted to have a frank discussion about death, how it affects people, how loss can destroy us, and how time can heal us, too.
Additionally, with the influx of older people who love young adult books, I wanted to give them something that was both deep and accessible. One of the great parts of YA is that the books are accessible to all people. They are fast reads. The thing that I don't like about young adult is they try to take very complex subjects and reduce them to their simplest points without describing the nuance of life. Life, and humor, are all about nuance.
CB: What drew you to the subject matter?
RN: I'm obsessed with death. I have been since I was a child and had an irrational belief that I was going to die at 35. Still do. Mortality is one of the things that drives me every single day. It's honestly hard for me to think about anything else.
On the other hand, I'm a very humorous person who is full of life, so just because my thoughts are full of death and junk, it doesn't mean I'm completely morose or that I'm completely anything. Nobody is completely anything.
I liked the idea of telling a morbid tale but doing it in a way that was full of dark humor, because even in death there is humor, and getting humor out of any situation is one of the great keys of life.
In order to tell a three-dimensional book, I think you have to dig deeply into both the darkest moments of life and the humor in it, as well.
Plus, I just love Delilah. She's one of my favorite characters.
CB: What do you hope for readers to experience / gain from reading Delilah's journal?
RN: I want readers to think about perception, death, grief, and fully experiencing all your emotions. I want them to ponder the idea that just because somebody is perfect in your eyes does not make it so, and finding out somebody is full of flaws shouldn't shatter your opinion of them.
I think the way Delilah heals in this story is to see her father not as this ideal on a pedestal, but as a real human, with real flaws, who had real problems.
Also, if they come to this book at a dark place in their life and after reading they understand that not all is lost and that fully experiencing all of your emotions is a good thing contrary to what society tells you, then I would be happy.