In the recent push to highlight and publish more inclusive titles, the focus has been primarily on race and culture, leaving many to call for more books featuring aneurotypical characters. Cindy Rodriguez’s When Reason Breaks fits just what many are looking for, featuring not only aneurotypical characters, but the “own voices” criteria – a story written by somebody with the same issues their characters experience.
In When Reason Breaks, Elizabeth Davis must learn to control her anger, while Emily Delgado fights her depression and struggles to feel normal. In the same English class, they both connect to the words of Emily Dickinson – but can his words pull them back from the edge of their emotional precipice?
“Depression runs in my family, and I was first diagnosed with it in my mid-20s,” said Rodriguez. “While the story is not autobiographical, much of this became personal. I reviewed my own journals to remember how I felt at my worst moments and tried to capture the thoughts and emotions of someone who is depressed. I’m also a teacher and a mother. All of my waking hours are spent with young people, some of whom are pushing themselves through the day. Writing about depression was something I needed to do. I merged the basic story about the girls dealing with their issues with the life and poetry of Emily Dickinson because I am a literary geek who fell in love with her in graduate school. Considering Dickinson’s history of depression and interest in death, the ideas fit together.”
Rodriguez planned to merge the life and poetry of Emily Dickinson into When Reason Breaks from the start. Using poems and first lines of her work as chapter titles helped Rodriguez weave another layer to the story.
“I think we’ve all had moments when we connect with a piece of art—a song, poem, movie—and it sheds light on something we’re going through. The poems help the characters throughout the story. Perhaps readers will connect with the poems, too.”
Comparisons of When Reason Breaks to 13 Reasons Why, and of Rodriguez to Sara Zarr and Jennifer Brown, put a bit of pressure on Rodriguez. Instead of taking it as something she has to live up to, she tries to think of it as a guide for readers interested in things they might like – in this case, contemporary fiction about serious issues.
“Since it was published, 13 Reasons Why has been the book about depression and suicide, so I’m sure many recent books about the same topics have been compared to it,” said Rodriguez. “While I’m hoping my book does well—of course—I’m not thinking “I have to be as successful as so-and-so” because I don’t think that’s healthy.”
All Rodriguez hopes is that her book finds readers who love it. The rest – reviews, compliments, critiques, comparisons – don’t matter as much as that connection.
“I hope readers who have never been depressed will understand a bit more about how it feels and its possible consequences. I also hope the characters show readers that not everyone with depression acts the same. Some retreat, while some lash out. Some are obviously in pain, while others can fake it and make it through the day. Ultimately, however, the novel has a hopeful ending,” said Rodriguez.
“Writers have to separate themselves from their work and not take things personally, good or bad. Still, my guess is most writers, myself included, anxiously await those first reviews and hope for the best after working on a project for so long and so deeply. The positive feedback has been great, but I don’t want to become obsessed with checking reviews. More than anything, I’ve been trying to experience this process with a sense of gratitude and celebration. I want to enjoy every step, and I’m truly thankful and thrilled when someone says they’ve read it and connected with it.”