Book Review: Hello, Cruel World

Book cover: Hello Cruel World by Kate Bornstein

Hello, Cruel World: 101 Alternative to Suicide for Teens, Freaks & Other Outlaws by Kate Bornstein was recommended to me by Skinny Hobbit. It’s written for nonconforming “freaks and outlaws,” whether that be in relation to gender, sexual orientation, or anything else that society likes to judge. It has fun illustrations, like a “get out of hell free” card.

The author, who identifies herself in the book as a “tranny dyke”, enthusiastically embraces freakishness of all kinds, including her own. She’s the high school guidance counsellor who you’ll wish you had, who says it like it is and isn’t embarrassed to talk about anything.

The author begins, “I wrote this book to help you stay alive because I think the world needs more kind people in it, no matter who or what they are, or do. The world is healthier because of its outsiders and outlaws and freaks and queers and sinners. I fall neatly into all of those categories, so it’s no big deal to me if you do or don’t.” She explains that the book isn’t about trying to convince you, as the reader, not to kill yourself; rather, it’s there to give you 101 ideas of things to do instead.” I like that approach.

She suggests that you try looking for the part of the identity that you’ve constructed that needs to die for you to keep on living. I thought this was a really interesting perspective. Being a freak basically means that there’s a conflict between who you are and the identity that society expects you to have, and unless you’re as completely fabulous as Kate Bornstein, chances are you’re carrying around at least some vestiges of things that society expects you to be.

The book covers some of the “sanctioned solutions” that are typically recommended, but acknowledges that those options don’t always feel very available.

The 101 alternatives to kill yourself come with various ratings: easiness (based on cows), safety (heart), effectiveness (umbrellas), and being more or less legal/moral (including X = no one older than Gen-X, aka old farts like me, should attempt).

Some of the alternatives include:

  • rant, rave, bitch, and moan
  • run away and hide
  • give ’em the old razzle dazzle
  • give up nouns for a day
  • find a friend, including a spiritual figure like L. Ron Hubbard (the author is a former Scientologist)

The book is packed with wise advice, including “When God says no to your harmless desires, it’s time to find another God.” One of the dying alternatives is being cute or dashing, and the author makes it clear that cute doesn’t mean weak; “Be cute or be dashing; “Porcupines are super cute, but you wouldn’t want to fuck with one.”

I thought this book was all kinds of fabulous. Sure, this probably isn’t the first book you’re going to reach for when mental illness is kicking your ass. But when life is hard because society has decided you’re a freak, this book might just leap right into your hand.

Hello, Cruel World is available on Amazon (affiliate link).

You can find my other reviews on the MH@H book review index or on Goodreads.

Straight talk on suicide - graphics of phoenix and semicolon

The Straight Talk on Suicide page has crisis and safety planning resources, along with info on suicide-related topics from the perspective of someone who’s been there.

17 thoughts on “Book Review: Hello, Cruel World”

  1. I want to say, at the outset, that you do a fabulous job of reviewing books. It’s not easy, but you do it very well.

    “Try looking for the part of the identity that you’ve constructed that needs to die for you to keep on living.” I love this. What a fantastic bit of advice. It slide nicely up against my compartmentalized neuroses. I also have large love for the cuteness reference re: porcupines. The author is correct – you wouldn’t want to fuck with one. 😄

    Interestingly, this is my first encounter with a “don’t kill yourself book.” I find that odd.

    1. Thank you! This is the first “don’t kill yourself book” I’ve encountered that can actually make you laugh, which is probably a good thing when trying not to kill oneself…

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