Content warning: This column discusses suicide.
Jen St. Jude’s debut novel, “If Tomorrow Doesn’t Come” (2023), is a gorgeously written and incredibly tender work of queer speculative young adult fiction being published next year by Bloomsbury Children’s. The protagonist, Avery, is suicidal. Her undiagnosed depression has pushed her to the brink, convincing her she has no other way out than ending her own life. She’s overwhelmed by guilt — over her queerness, over the fact that she’s secretly in love with her best friend, over the fact that she’s not the perfect Christian girl she thought she was. But when she’s about to end her life, she gets a call from her best friend, Cass. She picks up only to learn the world is ending. An asteroid is headed for earth and its collision will wipe out all life on the planet in nine days. Knowing her family and friends already are facing enough, Avery decides against suicide. If she can just make it through the next few days, she’ll get what she wants anyway, and more importantly, she won’t hurt anyone. Throughout the novel, Avery fights for the people she loves. In doing so, she learns how to stop holding onto her secrets and discovers a way to find hope again.
Told through dual timelines — one in the past and the other in the present — Avery’s story is a marvel from beginning to end. St. Jude writes depression as an entity, an all-consuming thing that strips the color from Avery’s life until every inch of beauty is gone. It’s a voice that convinces her that things will never get better and that it’s a feeling she deserves for wanting someone she can never have, for being queer. For struggling with her faith. Avery becomes so tangled up in feelings of guilt and shame and hopelessness that she believes a better tomorrow is impossible. But it is. Even as the world is falling apart, she’s able to find hope, realize that she’s worthy of love and that life is infinite if we let it be. Her healing process is messy and imperfect, one in which she makes mistake after mistake, but she keeps trying. And that way of reaching out, of opening up and seeking support, is what’s able to talk her out of that dark place.
“If Tomorrow Doesn’t Come” shares a thoughtful message with readers that life is never truly hopeless. We’re not alone and there is immense strength in leaning on each other when we need it. We deserve to be loved just as we are, even though we’re imperfect. And queer love is as beautiful as it is holy. Avery’s story is one I will never forget.
For all the queer readers out there, especially the ones who’ve struggled with religious trauma and mental illness, this one is for you. The novel is available for pre-order now.