Somehow, it’s September again, which means the fall semester, which means I’m drowning in schoolwork. But in the midst of my busy schedule, I made time, as I always do, for a blog tour post (as soulless as it may seem from an outsider perspective, signing up for these blog tours is the most effective way of ensuring that I’m still regularly reading and reviewing books that aren’t required reading for school throughout the year). Thanks to Paola at Noveltindie for hosting and inviting me to the tour, and congratulations to Sierra for self-publishing her debut! You can find more information about the tour at the launch post.
- Title: Death by Society
- Author: Sierra Elmore
- Release Date: September 13th, 2022
- Genre: Young Adult Contemporary
MEAN GIRLS meets IT’S KIND OF A FUNNY STORY when two teenage girls’ worlds collide when one attempts suicide to avoid toxic popularity.
Carter Harper may have created an award-winning app and have a 3.93 GPA, but her successes are overshadowed by brutal bullying, depression, and loneliness. Tired of being treated as the popular girls’ plaything, Carter thinks her only choice is to die by suicide.
Abby Wallace is one of the most popular girls in school, subordinate only to Kelsey, her best friend with benefits. The ambitious poet destroys reputations without care to prove how cool, cruel, and strong she is, all while pushing down her past trauma and secret guilt.
Carter and Abby’s tumultuous relationship comes to a boiling point when Abby stops Carter from attempting suicide. But what happens when they have to protect one another from Kelsey’s harmful antics? If Carter and Abby can stand each other for more than three minutes, they can stop Kelsey from hurting more girls—and maybe become friends in the process.
In the tradition of Courtney Summers and Laurie Halse Anderson, DEATH BY SOCIETY questions how far we’ll go to gain power over our lives—and what happens when we use our voices for both good and to harm others.
Trigger/content warnings: Death by Society and my review of the book discuss and mention bullying, anxiety, depression, suicide, and sexual assault.
Death by Society is one of those books that hits super close to home for me because it addresses bullying and suicide, which are both things that I have personal experience with. Although Carter’s specific experience of bullying is pretty different in nature from my own, the depiction of her social anxiety, low self-esteem, and depression really resonated with me. In particular, the guilt over how her severe depressive episodes affected her mother and the tendency to hide what she was going through were a little too real.
Additionally, there’s a part of the book where Carter freaks out over the fact that she’s recovering because the change, despite being a positive one, leads her to question her entire existence, having attached so much of her sense of self to the depression. Death by Society is one of the few fictional books on mental health and depression I’ve read that has depicted that angst and fear of getting better and captured it so well. Because as much as it sounds bizarre to anyone who hasn’t been there before, wanting to live after wanting to die is fucking scary! You’re not running away from your problems anymore, and you have to confront them and deal with them in a constructive way. You have to change your shitty coping mechanisms, and it’s hard to do that when you’ve been this way so long that you don’t know how to be otherwise. I learned in therapy that even positive change is stressful, and Carter’s life post-suicide attempt reflects that in many ways.
One of the things that felt refreshingly honest about Death by Society is how it makes room for the complex and messy aspects of humanity by giving a voice and narrative POV to Abby, who is both a victim of sexual violence and a bully to Carter for much of the story. As tempting as it can be to view violence and harm as things done exclusively by people who are fundamentally horrible in every conceivable way, by people who are simply unfeeling monsters beyond redemption, the reality is that so much harm is enacted by everyday people playing into toxic social systems (whether they realize it/intend to, or not), and even victims of violence (past or present) can also perpetuate violence toward others when they have the power to do so. Abby’s character exemplifies that truth, and it was interesting to watch her come to terms with the harm she inflicted and choose a different path.
Another way this book felt Super Real was the overall incompetence of most of the adults in Carter’s life at doing a damn thing about the bullying: the lip service paid to cultivating a welcoming environment at school, the reactionary and performative measures from administrators meant to convince themselves that they’ve done something when they don’t meaningfully addressing the root issues… It’s been a little over 10 years since I’ve graduated high school (
holy shit I’m old), but it still feels like society is stuck in the same bullshit when it comes to [failing to address] bullying. Rather than making her feel better, Carter’s interactions with the school administrators mostly just re-traumatizes her because they aren’t actually putting her needs first, they’re protecting themselves and coddling the parents of the other girls. Reading this book really made me contemplate the question of what actually helps? What is proven to be effective in preventing bullying and addressing the harm after the bullying has occurred? Because suspension and a lukewarm assembly with PowerPoint slides certainly are not.
While my commentary on this book so far may make Death by Society seem like a supremely SeriousTM book (which it is, in a lot of great ways!), it’s also actually ridiculously funny as well. I lost count of the number of times I laughed out loud while reading my ARC. There’s some morbid humor (because it is about heavy topics) but also some irreverent jokes. Not only do individual characters get dragged, our broader social institutions and norms get roasted and indicted as well. Death by Society is one of those gems that skillfully blends humor and social commentary and can make readers laugh without making light of the important issues involved, which is why I found it so cathartic of an experience to read.
About the Author
Sierra Elmore writes YA contemporary and thriller novels about girls wreaking havoc while fighting trauma. Her work has won the YoungArts merit award and was selected for the Author Mentor Match program.
Elmore earned a BA in Sociology from Arcadia University. She’s conducted research on the representation of mentally ill women in media, as well as relational aggression amongst adolescent girls.
Elmore lives in New York City, where she explores independent bookstores, volunteers for the Crisis Text Line, and goes to as many concerts as possible.