Reviewed by Lotte:
In this incredible book, Standing on My Brother’s Shoulders: Making Peace with Grief and Suicide, we see not just a family struggling with heartache but a true study in the impact that mental illness, grief and suicide can have on both a family and an individual. Tara J Lal talks us through living with a father struggling with mental ill-health, a mother that has taken the brunt of most of the family life and then sadly passes away, a deep sibling bond with her brother Adam and the shattering loss she experienced when he lost his life to suicide, and ultimately where that left her and how she learnt to heal.
This is a raw but beautiful account of a life so heavily impacted by grief and mental ill-health, showing the devastating effects this can have within a family and as an individual trying to find your way in the world. In the case of her brother, Adam, who did not manage to find his way, Tara shares his inner thoughts in such a caring, delicate way, it felt like she was truly honouring who he was and how he felt. It was a privileged insight into another person’s struggle. The way that Tara wove his writing into her own experiences, thought patterns, challenges and discoveries was masterful. It was like an echo of two souls connected even through death.
Tara handles this incredibly delicate subject with care and sensitivity. Working within mental health, I really appreciated the re-write and subsequent re-release of the book to include adaptations to the language and descriptions that better reflect our understanding of suicide now compared to 5 years ago at it’s initial release. This shows instantly how Tara has a real thoughtfulness and compassion surrounding these topics and can handle them well.
Having said that, this book does cover some incredibly difficult and intense topics. The writings she shares, both of her own thoughts and those immortalised in her brother’s writing are often so raw and brutally honest, it is hard not to feel. There is beauty in what is written too, it’s there throughout, in the descriptions, the understanding and genuine human responses to these experiences. But it’s wise to make sure you are in a place where you are able to read this without it having an adverse effect.
As someone that has experienced loss through suicide and had periods of time where I too made those attempts, it felt like this book spoke to me on a whole other level too. I related to both Tara’s and Adam’s writings, the inner turmoil, the aftermath and the healing. Although no two experiences are ever the same, I found comfort in the explanations and a sense of not being alone in this experience. I was often left lost in thought after certain phrases, appreciating the explanation that at times has been hard to find, and yet there it was, right in front of me. Even if you’ve not been impacted by suicide, this book will provide you with such an insight into the plight and struggles of those that have. It is powerful and invaluable!
Thank you to Tara J Lal, Watkins Publishing and NetGalley for the opportunity to read this ARC.