A powerfully emotional story of four people touched by a teen’s death, award-winning author Gurjinder Basran’s Help! I’m Alive is a clear-eyed exploration of meaningful connection in the modern era
After video footage of Jay’s death is shared on social media, a suburban Vancouver community is left to try to make sense of what happened to Jay and whether his death was an accident or a suicide.
Help! I’m Alive explores the aftermath through the eyes of four people all suddenly confronted with who they have been and how they should be in the wake of such loss. Jay’s former best friend, Ash, wonders what happened to their friendship and questions the relationships he has now; Winona, Jay’s troubled girlfriend struggles with guilt and abandonment; Anik, Ash’s older brother, is on a search for the meaning of life but hasn’t left his basement apartment in months; and Pavan, Ash and Anik’s mother, finds Jay’s death lays bare all her personal and maternal anxieties.
Unflinching but life-affirming, Help! I’m Alive is a Gen Z and Gen X coming-to-terms story about loneliness and connection, love and suffering, and the moments that bring us together and drive us apart.
About the author
Gurjinder Basran studied creative writing at Simon Fraser University and The Banff Center for the Arts. Her work was shortlisted for the 2008 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award and earned her a place in the Vancouver Sun’s annual speculative arts and culture article, “Ones To Watch.” A 2006 graduate of Simon Fraser University’s award-winning Writer’s Studio, Gurjinder has read her work at the Vancouver International Writers Festival and has been both a panelist and facilitator on writing at the 2007 Writer’s Studio alumni symposium. She lives in Delta, British Columbia with her husband and two sons. This is her first novel.
Excerpt: Help! I’m Alive: A Novel (by (author) Gurjinder Basran)
At school, the halls are crammed with backpacked bodies like always, but there’s this extra feeling, like the heaviness you get in your chest when you’re keeping a secret or telling a lie, only it’s not contained, it’s alive with a virus-like spread. The popular girls are crying in huddled masses, mascara runs down their cheeks as they work at mastering sentiment, sullen expressions, and the not-too-ugly cry — they don’t know how to do anything but pose and pretend. And the boys, they just nod and look away, never quite making eye contact. Head down, hands tucked in pockets, he avoids them all, weaving and maneuvering his way through the day as if he were a rat in a maze.
An announcement is made after first bell. “We are shocked and saddened by the sudden passing of Jacob McAlister. Our hearts and prayers are with his family and friends.” No mention of the details, only that there will be counselors on hand for the next few weeks. People who didn’t know him act sad. People who did know him are legit stunned. Teachers whisper out one side of their two faces, gossiping about Jay’s mom and how she must be feeling. Ash wants to tell them to stop talking about Jay like he’s an event, like some epic winter storm that they’ll recall when they’re old. And his mom? How she’s feeling is screwed, not in her usual too-many-night-shifts, cash-strapped, chain-smoking way, but in the life is never going to be good again way. Ash feels bad for her; Lisa tries hard, like most moms do. He can still hear her calling down the street as Jay skated away. “You come back here, Jacob McAlister,” his name caught in the whirring of the wheels, syllables eaten by asphalt.
No one saw this coming. He was a happy kid; he had a girlfriend. Sure, Winona was a bit weird but still he had someone. Jay wasn’t like the cutters who carve at their arms in the girls’ bathroom stalls or like the bullied kid who hung himself in the art room. That’s what everyone’s saying at least. Now that he’s gone, everyone wants to know him, to know why, to insert themselves into the story and make it mean something.
But there’s no making sense of it.
Jay jumped off the Lions Gate Bridge.
And even though Ash saw it, he doesn’t want to believe it. The sky was too blue that day.
“Rather than exploiting suicide for character development, Basran opts to probe fractures in the oldest, closest relationships and the beautiful fragility of new ones. Each character is distinct, drawn with such detail that readers will find it easy to empathize with them. Help! I'm Alive is a masterful examination of what it means to be human, to hope and to connect.” — Shelf Awareness
“A satisfying drama.” — Publishers Weekly
“Basran sensitively examines four characters with their own sets of psychological struggles, all of whom gradually and to a believable degree begin to move past them and open up, offering a hint of hope to the reader.” — Booklist
“Gurjinder Basran brings a laser-focused intensity to the interactions and concerns of alienated teens, the cruelties and generosities of friendship, intimacy and family, the ‘small interventions’ that make life bearable. ‘When we’re the luckiest we don’t even know it’s happening,’ she writes. By the end of Help! I’m Alive, though, that is no longer true; having come through a terrible ordeal, these flawed but compelling characters have found the grace notes to guide them onward in their journey.” — Rachel Rose, author of The Octopus Has Three Hearts
“Help! I’m Alive doesn’t exploit the despair that can lead to suicide but instead asks its characters and readers to look at the ways they connect — or don’t — in modern society … Basran’s insight, voice and deep character work make this an affecting read.” — Shelf Awareness