Debut author Hannah Harrington tells the tale of a young teen struggling to survive the aftermath of her older sister's suicide in Saving June. As Harper embarks on a journey to fulfill her sister's last wish and put June's ashes to rest, she makes some incredibly shocking discoveries about her family along the way. Today the author takes us behind the scenes of this novel to share the loss that inspired this story and how she coped with the pain of losing a loved one.
While it only took me approximately three months to hammer out a first draft of Saving June, the idea of it had been rolling around in my head for years before then — ever since I was in high school.
A relative of mine — only a few years older than me — committed suicide when I was seventeen. The family chose to split the ashes into two urns, despite it being against the final request of the deceased. It left me thinking a lot about last wishes and paying respects, on top of everything else such unexpected tragedies tend to leave those behind questioning: death, God, the universe in general. The meaning of life, and the fragility of it all.
When I think of that time in my life, I think of the song “Metal Heart” by Cat Power. The same day I found out the news, I’d burned myself a CD, except the computer had screwed it up and only the first track was listenable, which I didn’t realize until I tried playing it. So I spent the whole school day with my Discman stealthily tucked into my hoodie and headphones hidden under my hair so no one would notice, and I listened to that one song over and over on a loop. Even now whenever that song plays, it’s like I’m seventeen all over again, wandering through the school hallways and feeling disconnected from everything — except for the music. No one else could understand what I felt then, but Chan Marshall of Cat Power did.
There’s a saying — I’m not sure where it originated — that goes, “Music is my boyfriend.” It’s meant to be a joke, but there is an underlying truth to it; a lot of people have an intimate relationship with music. I know I do. Songs remind me of events and places, I associate albums with people I’ve known — all of it ties to different memories. It’s a powerful thing, and maybe at its most powerful when you’re a teenager, since it’s a time in your life when you’re really starting to figure things out. Or trying to, anyway. It’s a time when you’re discovering who you are and who you want to be. Everything that happens to you, the clothes you wear and the music you listen to and the books you read and the people you befriend, it all helps to shape the person you’ll become.
I wanted Saving June to capture that. It’s a story of loss, but even more than that, it’s a story of looking for answers, and coming to the realization that some things in life just don’t have any. Maybe that’s okay. And maybe sometimes it’s not okay, but you have to find a way to reconcile that harsh reality and carry on, because there’s a lot to live for. You just have to find it.
- Hannah Harrington