Critically acclaimed author of We Are the Ants—described as having “hints of Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five” (School Library Journal)—opens up about what led to an attempted suicide in his teens, and his path back from the experience.
“I wasn’t depressed because I was gay. I was depressed and gay.”
Shaun David Hutchinson was nineteen. Confused. Struggling to find the vocabulary to understand and accept who he was and how he fit into a community in which he couldn’t see himself. The voice of depression told him that he would never be loved or wanted, while powerful and hurtful messages from society told him that being gay meant love and happiness weren’t for him.
A million moments large and small over the years all came together to convince Shaun that he couldn’t keep going, that he had no future. And so he followed through on trying to make that a reality.
Thankfully Shaun survived, and over time, came to embrace how grateful he is and how to find self-acceptance. In this courageous and deeply honest memoir, Shaun takes readers through the journey of what brought him to the edge, and what has helped him truly believe that it does get better.
About the Author
Shaun David Hutchinson is the author of numerous books for young adults, including The Past and Other Things That Should Stay Buried, The Apocalypse of Elena Mendoza, At the Edge of the Universe, and We Are the Ants. He also edited the anthologies Violent Ends and Feral Youth and wrote the memoir Brave Face, which chronicles his struggles with depression and coming out during his teenage years. He lives in Seattle, where he enjoys drinking coffee, yelling at the TV, and eating cake. Visit him at ShaunDavidHutchinson.com or on Twitter @ShaunieDarko.
Read an Excerpt
I’LL KEEP THIS SHORT. A lot happens in this memoir. There’s drug use, sex in the backseat of a Mustang, discussion of homosexuality, alcohol use, a smidge of profanity, and a little petty theft. Those, of course, aren’t worthy of a content warning. Those are just the hundred million pieces that make up a life, and I’m not ashamed of them. But I’m also going to talk about depression, about cutting and burning myself, and about my attempted suicide. I’m not ashamed of those things either, but they might be tough for some of you to read, and I want to make sure you’re aware of what’s coming.
I’m also going to use words that will probably make you uncomfortable. Words like “faggot” and “fag” and “homo.” I know these words hurt to read. They’re not pleasant to write, either, but they’re part of my story. There were a lot of misconceptions about what being gay meant in the 1990s, and I absorbed them all. Many of my attitudes and beliefs were a result of internalized homophobia and are not beliefs I hold today.
I should also warn you that I was selfish, arrogant, and kind of screwed up when I was younger. I made a lot of mistakes. And while I had my reasons for many of the things I did, they’re not excuses. There are no excuses for the ridiculous crap I did when I was younger, and if I could apologize to every single person I hurt, I would. It’s fine to hate teenage me a little, but trust me, no one will ever hate that arrogant little prick more than he hated himself.
As you’re reading, it’s okay to put the book down if it becomes too much or if you need a break. I took lots of breaks while writing. Just remember that no matter how dark it gets along the way, I’m working on this from the light at the other end of the tunnel, and I’ll be waiting for you there.
Reading Group Guide
A Reading Group Guide to
By Shaun David Hutchinson
About the Book
Author Shaun David Hutchinson is known for writing fiction about teens facing difficult situations. In Brave Face, he writes a different kind of story. He tells of his coming of age, his coming out, and his coming to terms with his depression. He shares his story of survival to help those who may be struggling with the same feelings, showing that there is hope for a better future if you can just find your way through the pain.
1. Shaun dedicates the book to “anyone who’s ever felt a little queer.” What are different meanings for the word queer? What meaning does Shaun attach to the word? Why do you think he dedicates the book in this way?
2. Why do you think Shaun includes two content warnings in the book? What does he warn his readers about? How does this set the tone for the book?
3. Shaun writes in his journal, “Being gay involves choices and fears. The choice is how to go about finding love. The fear is that I never will.” Picture yourself there with Shaun, having a conversation around this statement. How would you respond to this idea of choices and fears? Is it similar to or different from the way you feel about love? Do these particular choices and fears lead to any others for Shaun or for you?
4. Why does Shaun lie to Alex about being a virgin? How does it affect their relationship? Does this lie foreshadow any patterns in Shaun’s future relationships? What does Shaun lose by having told this lie? Have you ever lied to someone you care about or been lied to? How did it make you feel? What did you learn from the experience?
5. How do Alan’s views about women affect his friendship with Shaun? What information does Shaun keep from Alan because of these views? How does Alan react to Shaun’s coming out? How do you think this affects Shaun?
6. Describe representations of homosexuality that Shaun has seen both in his experiences and in the movies. How does this affect his feelings about his own homosexuality? Do these representations change throughout the course of the book? How might a different interpretation of gay life have changed Shaun’s experience? How can you help to make a safe and welcoming community for all in your school or neighborhood?
7. Describe the future Shaun envisions for a gay man. How does his perceived lack of options affect the choices he makes? When do his ideas about the future begin to change, and what does this new future look like?
8. Why does Shaun confess to stealing the Playgirl magazine from Waldenbooks? Do you think Oscar, the investigator, handles the situation well? If not, how could he have handled it differently? Do you see any similarities between this situation and Shaun’s coming-out moments?
9. Discuss the cave and its use as an allegory. Why do you think Shaun brings this up? Do you think it’s a fair assessment of his situation? Could you apply the allegory to any other situations in Shaun’s life? Does it remind you of any situations in your own life?
10. Throughout the book, Shaun talks about his determination to solve his problems on his own and the fact that he doesn’t need help from anyone. How do you feel about this mentality? Is Shaun able to solve his problems on his own? Does he ever learn to ask for help? Why do you think there can be a stigma around asking for and accepting help? Do you think it’s more of an internal or external dilemma?
11. Why does Shaun write The Round Table? How does it help him come to terms with who he is? What is it about writing that appeals to Shaun? How does it help him throughout his life? Do you have an activity or outlet that’s a source of comfort to you? Why might it be important to find something or someone that you can connect with?
12. What is the theme of Shaun’s baccalaureate speech? Do you think he effectively conveys his message? Do you think it’s fair of him to hold his classmates responsible for his pain? What could Shaun or his classmates have done throughout the school year to project their feelings or become more aware or sensitive to one another’s needs?
13. In his journal entry from September 25, 1996, Shaun talks about suicide but eventually says, “How could anyone choose nonexistence when there’s always a chance, however small, that something good might happen. I guess it’s good that I still hold on to some bit of hope, but there have been brief seconds when it wouldn’t have taken much to convince me otherwise.” Name some of the good things that do happen to Shaun. How important is this bit of hope to him? What happens to take away this hope? Why do you think it can be difficult to maintain hope, especially after a setback? Where do you look to find hope and inspiration when you’re down?
14. Does Shaun’s “queer” shirt have the intended effect? Why does he decide to wear it? What are the unintended consequences? Do you think Aimee is right when she says it’s “better to whisper than to scream”? Explain your answer.
15. In what ways is the coming-out process more about the person you’re coming out to and less about the person coming out? Were all of Shaun’s coming out experiences like this? What other situation does he find himself in where the experience is as much about the other people in his life as it is about him? How does Shaun feel about this?
16. How do acting and role-playing fit into Shaun’s life? What do these activities tell us about him?
17. Shaun tells Carlos that he’s gay, that he doesn’t like the derogatory “f” term for gay men, and that he attempted suicide. Why is Shaun able to tell Carlos things that he isn’t able to tell others? How does verbalizing these things make Shaun feel? Why can being a good listener be as important as being willing to discuss your own feelings? What kind of person makes for a good confidant?
18. How do Shaun’s feelings about himself affect his relationships? Why does he break up with Dante? How does Brother Jim’s sermon affect him?
19. Why is self-harm such an important part of Shaun’s story? What does cutting and burning himself do for his mental state? What takes away his last bit of hope and causes him to attempt suicide? Why does this seem like the best option for him in that moment? How do his feelings change after the fact? What makes him decide to ask for help?
20. Describe Shaun’s support network. How do they support him? What are his excuses for pushing them away? Why is it sometimes difficult for Maddie to be Shaun’s friend?
21. How does the realization that he is both gay and depressed change Shaun’s life? Does your perception of his story change upon viewing the depression as its own entity rather than a side effect of being gay?
22. What did Shaun mean when he said, “Being queer wasn’t the nucleus of who I was, it was simply a modifier”? Why was this an important lesson for him to learn? What other modifiers can he use to describe himself? What modifiers would you use to describe yourself?
1. Growing up, Shaun sees a lack of positive portrayals of gay men in movies and television shows. How is queer life currently depicted in the media? Compare and contrast the number and quality of gay characters featured now versus in the late nineties. Discuss whether you think the representation has improved, and ways it could continue to improve.
2. Shaun finds great release in acting and debating because the roles allow him to try on different personas. Try taking an evocative personal memory and rewriting it from the point of view of someone else who was there, or use a scene from a favorite book or movie and rewrite it from a different character’s point of view. What changes? What stays the same? How do you feel writing as someone else?
3. Read the section with the cave and its use as an allegory, focusing on the idea of “seeing only the shadows.” Think about how this relates to your life, or craft a different allegorical image that’s more relevant to your experiences. Then write a brief essay about a related moment, including how you acted, how it made you feel, and how you feel now that you’ve gained some distance and perspective.
4. Have you or anyone you know ever suffered from depression? What can you do to help those who are depressed or contemplating suicide? Is there a suicide hotline in your community or a support group at your school that you can give some time to? Research resources in your community and also on the national level, such as the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/. Think about Shaun’s behaviors or conversations that might have indicated to others that he was struggling. How might you go about approaching someone who may not be willing to ask for help? When might you alert an adult to your concerns?
5. When Shaun cannot find depictions of the life he wants to lead, he writes his own. Write a short story or a one-act play that represents who you are and the life you want to lead. Read the story out loud to your classmates, or recruit them to perform your play.
6. A number of musicians and songs play important roles in Shaun’s life, helping him to define himself as a gay man and work through his depression. Create a playlist of songs that have meaning to you, songs that help define you or speak to your emotional self. Share these songs with others and explain their meaning in your life.
Guide written by Cory Grimminck, Director of the Portland District Library in Michigan.
This guide has been provided by Simon & Schuster for classroom, library, and reading group use. It may be reproduced in its entirety or excerpted for these purposes.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I knew this book was going to be rough, I had been warned but I knew that I had to read it for these are the types of books that I enjoy. I don’t enjoy them for the struggles and the pain that the individuals go through but for a multitude of other reasons. I enjoyed this book because it made me feel, it brought my emotions up front and center. And boy, did I have plenty of emotions with this book. Most of my emotions were directed at Shaun, whether I was ready to scream at him, be scared for him, frustrated with him, or I just wished I could reach inside the book, wrap my arms around him and comfort him. This book also showed me how resilient Shaun was. As I read this book, Shaun faced a lot of crappy situations but when all is said-and-done, Shaun persisted. Shaun experienced scrapes, bruises, and scars during the process, and he’s definitely a changed person because of what he went through. That to me says a lot about a person and I enjoy reading how these individuals find their strength and courage. As I read these stories, I feel like I’m part of the story. I give them encouragement (sometimes more vocal then I should) and push for them to find hope, yet I know that I’m nothing but a voice talking to a book. This book is also one that I will not forget. I liked how Shaun warned his readers at the beginning of the book that it contains some difficult topics. Shaun is being real; this is his life and he’s not going to smooth things over to make his readers happy. This really happened according to Shaun. So, deal with it. Shaun discusses in this book growing up, discovering his sexuality, how he came out, and his depression. It’s pretty straight forward and there’s swearing, homosexuality, drugs, suicide, stealing, and some sex, so be willing to walk with Shaun as he covers what his life was like and how he survived. I thought the novel was powerful and moving. I realize the year on the calendar has changed, yet I wonder if things have really changed in how individuals are accepted. Parents, peers, friends, relatives, and siblings all have an impact during this time. I appreciate Shaun honesty and I appreciate that he shared his experience with others. Shaun never felt good enough for anyone. He’d start to get comfortable with someone and then, internally a switch would go off and he’d start waiting for the ball to drop. It was too good to be true, something bad was bound to happen. Shaun wanted to fit in with his peers. Shaun wanted to like girls but when he was with them, it just didn’t feel right. He lied to fit in but paid the price for it over and over again. He knew he was different yet he didn’t know why. Shaun had his own view and opinions and these clouded his mind and judgement. It took him a while to figure out exactly what made him different and then, he needed to figure out what to do next. A great read that will definitely leave a lasting impression. Thank you, Shaun, for sharing your story with others.
Thank you to NetGalley and Simon and Schuster Children’s Publishing for the advance reader copy Brave Face by awesome diverse author, Shaun David Hutchinson, in exchange for an honest review. I could not put down this book; this memoir was searing; Shaun suffered so much as a teen and young adult because he did not have enough faith in himself as a guy who realizes he is gay and how to handle being gay as a teen, son, and friend. Shaun takes the reader through his self-hatred, his preconceived notions, and how depression bullied him into believing no one would ever love him. I was so glad for his best friend, Maddie and his English teacher who encouraged him to continue to write and urged him to accept himself. Even at his lowest, Shaun continued to hold out hope that he would find happiness. He is a talented YA writer; teens love his books and they will most certainly identify with his anger, insecurities, and his feeling of being overwhelmed and misunderstood. This is a must read for teens; about gender and differences, the formal and informal messages Shaun received and how they empowered him and also caused him to live/believe in a world where bullying, AIDS, and gender stereotyping made him question himself over and over again as a queer/gay teen and young man. Highly recommended.
Thanks to Net Galley and Simon & Schuster for an advanced copy of this to review. Shaun David Hutchinson is one of my favorite authors, and I was so excited to read his memoir. I had the chance to review The Past and Other Things that Should Stay Buried earlier this year, and Hutchinson has had a great year so far. At the core, Hutchinson's memoir is heartbreaking, peppered with his constant thoughts of not being good enough. Overall, his memoir reads a lot like a novel, supported with emails, journal entries, and stories from Hutchinson's past. I think this is the memoir that teens need. They can see someone that perhaps struggled with the same problems that they had and made it out the other side. Hutchinson's message isn't just that it gets better. It's that there's hope, and that there's going to be ups and downs, but the ups are worth it. Hutchinson also provides trigger warnings, as well as giving readers the ability to skip the section about his suicide attempt. His discussion of mental health, and talking about getting help, is important for teens that might find themselves in similar situations. An important memoir that should find its way into any and every library.