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Trigger by Susan Vaught

y Susan Vaught

Publishing Information: Bloomsbury USA Children's Books: New York, 2006
ISBN: 9781582349206 / 9781599902302 (PB)
: 304 p.
Ages: 12 & Up

Seventeen-year-old Jersey Hatch is finally released from a rehabilitation center after suffering a gunshot wound to the head.  When he learns that his injury was self-inflicted, and with no memory of having done it, Jersey struggles to overcome his physical and mental disabilities and find out why.

Book Talk:
What triggers an adolescent to want to commit suicide?  In Susan Vaught’s young adult novel, readers meet Jersey Hatch who can’t remember why he tried to shoot his own head off.  Jersey is physically and mentally damaged as a result of his suicide attempt and must attempt to relearn how to tie his shoelaces, how to work algebra problems, and how to repair relationships with his friends and parents.  As Jersey struggles to remember what happened and how to move forward, he only has two people who are really willing to help him and to talk to him honestly, an elderly neighbor, Mama Rush, and her granddaughter, Leza.  Vaught’s novel makes for interesting discussions with adolescents about what drives a teen to commit suicide and what might happen if the attempt fails.

Subject Headings & Major Themes:

Brain Damage
Brain Damage Rehabilitation
Gunshot Wounds
Memory Loss

Awards & Reviews:
ALA Best Books for Young Adults, 2007
Booksense Children’s Pick, 2006
Booklist Top 10 Mystery/Suspense for Youth, 2006-2007
TAYSHAS Reading List, 2007-2008

Booklist¸ December 1, 2006, p. 45 (Starred Review)
Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books, October 2006, p. 99
Horn Book, September/October 2006, p.598-599 (Starred Review)
Kirkus Reviews, September 1, 2006,  p. 914
Publishers Weekly, November 20, 2006, p. 61 (Starred Review)
School Library Journal, November 2006,  p.156
VOYA: Voice of Youth Advocates, October 1, 2006

Discussion Questions and Ideas:

  1. Jersey is like a detective; he’s searching for clues to unravel the mystery of his life. What do you consider to be the key evidence he uncovers?
  2. If you were to read Jersey’s story from a different perspective - Todd’s, Mama Rush’s,or any other character in the book - what aspects do you think would be different? The same?
  3. How did your feelings for and opinion of Jersey change throughout your reading of his story?
  4. What, if any, aspects of Jersey’s life do you relate to?
  5. How do you think you would feel if you could no longer do something you enjoyed and/or excelled at?
  6. When Mama Rush says “not everything fits on a list, Jersey” 9p. 253), what do you think she means?
  7. When Jersey returns to school, the adults stare at him as he walks down the hall.  Yet Jersey is somewhat relieved by this reaction (p. 112). Were you expecting a different response from the teachers? If so, why? How would you have liked to see them react?
  8. What, if any, significance do you give to Jersey protecting the football rug when he attempts suicide?
  9. Why do you think Jersey’s father kept the gun?
  10. “I knew about cold empty, and mad, and now I knew how everything seemed like it got too big and bigger and I made nothing huge until I pulled the trigger.” (p.273) What was your reaction to Jersey’s epiphany? Given that you were in his head with him, had you come to this same conclusion?
    1. Many of these questions were taken from the publisher's site at

Related Websites:
Author’s website:

Teen Suicide: Adolescent Suicide Statistics and Prevention:

TeensHealth: Advice and Answers: Your Mind:

TeensHealth: Stress:

National Youth Violence Prevention Campaign:

Teen Mental Health:

After the Death of Anna Gonzales by Terri Fields, 2002
Aimee by Mary Beth Miller, 2002 (2004 RITBA Nominee)
All We Know of Heaven by Jacquelyn Mitchard, 2008
The Burn Journals by Brent Runyon, 2004 (2007 RITBA Nominee)
Crosses by Shelley Stoehr, 1991
Damage by A.M. Jenkins, 2001
The Death of Jayson Porter by Jaime Adoff, 2008
Drowning Anna by Sue Mayfield, 2002
Freewill by Chris Lynch, 2001
The Game by Teresa Toten, 2001
In the Name of God
by Paula Jolin, 2007
Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac by Gabrielle Zevin, 2007 (2009 RITBA Nominee)
The Night I Disappeared by Julie Reece Deaver, 2002
Open Ice by Pat Hughes, 2005
Pitch Black: Color Me Lost by Melody Carlson, 2004
Remembering the Good Times by Richard Peck, 1985
Shooter by Walter Dean Myers, 2004
Stay With Me
by Garret Freymann-Weyr, 2006
Stone Water by Mel Glenn, 2000
Tears of a Tiger
by Sharon M. Draper, 1994
Things Left Unsaid by Stephanie Hemphill, 2004
Thirteen Reasons Why
by Jay Asher, 2007
Tribes by Arthur Slade, 2002
Wasteland by Francestca Lia Block, 2003

Other Books by the Author:
Stormwitch, 2005
Big Fat Manifesto, 2008

About the Author:
Susan Vaught is a clinical psychologist with a speciality in neuropsychology. She works daily with children and adolescents in her private practice, something that influences her writing. She and her family - two children, three dogs, five cats, eighteen chickens, and Guinevere the peahen - all live on a rugged farm in the Smoky Mountain foothills of Tennessee.

| ©2004 - Rhode Island Teen Book Award Committee | Aaron Coutu, Chair