Fiction, YA Fiction

Death by Society by Sierra Elmore

Carter is the kind of teenager our parents hope we’ll be: intelligent, skilled, and determined to thrive academically. But, unfortunately, she’s also the kind of teenager we don’t tell our parents we are: bullied, sad, and increasingly isolated and preyed upon by the popular girls. The bullying reaches a head, as it always does, and Carter sees only one way out — suicide.

In a sudden flash of morality — and guilt — the worst bully realizes what’s happening and rushes to Carter’s aid. Abby is a mean girl, but a mean girl who is, of course, hurting on the inside with more than her fair share of trauma motivating her horrible behaviour. Hurt people hurt people, and on it goes.

Book cover for Death by Society

The toxic friendships and rivalries shift and crumble as the teens realize their lives and futures are at stake. They make terrible decisions, but unlike adult novels in which I’m frustrated at those decisions, I understand that teen characters are going to do the exact opposite of what I, an adult, want them to do. Ultimately they stumble to healing, for the most part, as individuals and collectively, but some of them have to fight for it.

Death by Society doesn’t shy away from the pain of toxic high school experiences, nor does the book distance itself from the hard work that goes into mental health recovery and long-term stability. It’s a very raw, heavy book.

There are a lot of characters to follow and obviously some very intense plot points. However, I think the chaos will seem precisely right for the YA demographic, from what I recall of high school. There were a few times where I was thinking; this is not realistic, this level of drama — and then I remembered being a teen girl. 

Still, I had a hard time with some of the motivations and characterization of the antagonists. Redemption felt like it came on quickly in the end, without the grudges that I’d hold (but these fictitious teens may be better adjusted than me, a real adult). Also, some of the adult characters seemed a bit too checked out but again — having heard some things from friends with older kids, maybe checked-out adults are authentic… these seemed somewhat like caricatures.

It’s hard to properly review this as an adult reader because I’m coloured by adult views, ideals, and hopes for my future teens. I suspect this will resonate strongly with many teens, though, and I commend Sierra Elmore for her bravery in writing it.

Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for the ARC in exchange for an honest review.

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