A List of Things That Didn’t Kill Me
“I want to be Han Solo.”
“Han – what about Luke?” John asked.
Luke…never seemed to have much of a choice…Han Solo made choices, and most of them were pretyy self-serving…But when the chips were down, he made a choice to come back and join the fight….I wanted to be the guy not to fuck with, who comes through at the last minute…I wanted to be loyal and brave.
— Jason Schmidt, A List of Things That Didn’t Kill Me
A List of Things That Didn’t Kill Me, by Jason Schmidt is the gritty memoir of a young man raised in poverty by his father in the seventies and eighties. The book is listed as Young Adult. I would say this is Young Adult Plus – at a minimum. In the first third of the book, nearly every negative topic has been covered: rape, drug use, arrest, verbal and physical abuse, animal abuse, sexual abuse. – those are just the ones off the top of my head. I would not casually put this into a teenager’s hands. As a general statement no less than a junior in High School. In reality, not unless I saw a reason to.
However, it is completely suitable for adults. Particularly adults that will come in contact with kids who are not living a “straight” middle-class life. I would absolutely find value putting this book into a teacher’s hands. If you were not raised in this lifestyle it is hard to comprehend that people survive this sort of upbringing. Being able to look past your own experience is an important skill. One that is imperative in people who affect children and teenagers.
The memoir itself begins in a bloody scene. Teenage Jason isn’t even surprised when he finds his father in a pool of his own blood. As the acting adult he simply does what needs to be done to take care of him. The story then goes back to the beginning.
Schmidt is honest in A List of Things That Didn’t Kill Me, that in the early parts he isn’t sure if it more memory or hearsay but in either case the picture is painted of a life very different. One where a four year-old gains independence simply because his mother has abandoned him physically and his father often got lost in drugs. He learns from a very young age that the world is separated in to “our people” and the “straights” who cannot be trusted with the truth of their lives.
Later he goes on to paint a picture of isolation and desperation. The same confusion that many teens go through but without an appropriate framework or release. Then his father comes out of the closet and subsequently gets ill and tests positive for HIV. He deals with the stigma of being poor, the stigma of the homosexual life he is a part of, the outside life he leads and his sheer anger.
Through it all he and the reader have a back and forth love-hate relationship with Jason’s father. On one hand, he didn’t abandon him, like his mother, and seems to try. On the other, he’s a raging drug addict who abuses Jason until he physically cannot. Likening him to a trained dog. He also is Jason’s only champion. Where Jason struggles in school the system thinks he’s slow and wants to put him is special ed, his father insists he’s not. In turn, this leads to testing that shows he is brilliant but unchanneled.
We follow Jason throughout his childhood and teenage years and finally toward college. The reader knows Jason has made it out to some sort of happy ending simply by the book being published and the smiling author photo and blurb, but the memoir itself is lacking on this part of the story.
After spending so much time in the darkness of his upbringing it would have been great to see more of how he turned things around and what lead him to where he is now.
A List of Things That Didn’t Kill Me is not a book for everyone (certainly not every young adult) but it absolutely has a place. Reading stories from unwalked paths is imperative in empathy and understanding and that is something for everyone.
When you are done reading this check out our other books that made the