Monoceros by Suzette MayrMonoceros by Suzette Mayr is an emotional novel of incredible relevance, especially to families, schools, and adults trying to navigate the waters of today’s youth.

A seventeen-year-old boy, bullied and heartbroken, hangs himself. And although he felt terribly alone, his suicide changes everyone around him.

His parents are devastated. His secret boyfriend’s girlfriend is relieved. His unicorn- and virginity-obsessed classmate, Faraday, is shattered. His English teacher, mid-divorce and mid-menopause, wishes she could remember the dead student’s name, that she could care more about her students than her ex’s new girlfriend. The school guidance counsellor, Walter, feels guilty – maybe he should have made an effort when the kid asked for help. Max, the principal, is worried about how it will reflect on the very Catholic school. And Walter, who’s been secretly in a relationship with Max for years, thinks that’s a little callous.

From the publisher, Coach House Books

At times difficult to read, but always powerful and poignant, Mayr’s writing draws you in mentally and emotionally. Published in 2011 and longlisted for the Giller Prize, Monoceros is Suzette Mayr‘s fourth novel.

[pullquote]Mayr avoids sanitization of the issue of suicide, and also manages to avoid clichéd sentimentality[/pullquote]While centering around Patrick Furey and his death, the novel shows the effects that a suicide has on the people around him, the people whose lives he touched whether he knew it or not. Only minor glimpses are offered with Patrick, his parents, and his secret boyfriend Ginger; Monoceros explores the lives of those on the peripheral of Patrick’s life—the English teacher, principal, guidance counsellor, Ginger’s girlfriend Petra, and classmate Faraday.

Mayr avoids sanitization of the issue of suicide, and also manages to avoid clichéd sentimentality. The characters’ responses are not your stereotypical ‘It Gets Better’ video, they are raw, self-centered, and threaded with guilt. I appreciated how Mayr did not brush aside the characters whose response was often selfish and lack of empathy, such as Max who worries about the implications for the school as an institution instead of the student body.

At times the book was difficult to read due to the depressing material, but it was incredibly well-written and powerful. I was most intrigued by how the characters were interwoven into each others’ stories—Max ends up in a relationship with Crepe Suzette, who is also Faraday’s uncle. Some other reviewers have suggested a parallel to the cover image as an allusion to the constellation Monoceros and how all these characters are within Patrick’s constellation. But, more simply, monoceros is the Greek word for ‘unicorn’.