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Living on the Edge of Society

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A List of Things that Didn’t Kill Me by Jason Schmidt  2015 • Farrar, Straus & Giroux (us.macmillan.com) 432 pages $18.99/$21.99 Canada Hardcover

‘A List of Things that Didn’t Kill Me’ by Jason Schmidt
by Terri Schlichenmeyer

Your people understand you. That’s because you speak the same language, dance to the same music, and wear the same uniform. You might not be related by blood or ceremony, but you belong to them and they to you. You’re family, but—as you’ll see in the new book A List of Things that Didn’t Kill Me by Jason Schmidtthey won’t always catch you when you fall.

Killing his father would have been simple. Jason Schmidt knew he could smother his dad or overdose him, and nobody would ever suspect. His father had been sick awhile anyhow, and if he died nobody would look twice, although Schmidt sensed he’d regret it.

He didn’t need any more regrets in his life.

Born in the early ’70s, Schmidt remembers being a self-sufficient child: his earliest memory was leaving his mother’s house (at age three) to ride a mile on his tricycle to his father’s place.

That was just before his parents battled, his mother left for good, his father “got busted,” and Schmidt was sent to Southern California to temporarily live with his grandparents, who shipped him to Oregon when his father got out of jail. There, Schmidt and his dad lived in a series of “leftover” houses with a variety of “flower children, baby boomers” and hippies who taught Schmidt about sex, drugs, and avoiding outsiders.

When he was seven, he and his father relocated to Seattle, where they moved in with his dad’s boyfriend—thus, Schmidt learned that his father was gay. Three years later, another boyfriend got sick with “a weird fever,” and then Schmidt’s father “came down with the same bug.” Schmidt pretended to cry when the diagnosis of AIDS was confirmed.

By the beginning of his senior year, Schmidt—whose school attendance was spotty, at best—had nonetheless caught up with his peers. He had a girlfriend, an understanding of welfare fraud, a high IQ, anger issues, and a dying father—but no stability, money, or plan for the future. He was 16, just barely holding things together, and he couldn’t even think of what would happen when he graduated.

And then a “nice old man,” an angel with cleaning supplies, stepped into his life.

The best way I can describe A List of Things that Didn’t Kill Me is to say that it’s a large book. I’m not just talking page count: beginning with his earliest memory and moving forward to young adulthood, author Jason Schmidt shares a powerful, emotional coming-of-age tale of an unstable childhood, of the beginning of AIDS, and of people purposely living on the edge of society with little or nothing, all told in a voice dripping with sarcasm, irony, and anger.

That voice—that’s what hooked me. I laughed. I got teary. I loved it.

Though this book is meant for teens, I think it’s better suited for readers ages 16 and up, due to adult language and themes. If you can handle that, then A List of Things that Didn’t Kill Me is one you’ll be glad you didn’t miss.

Terri Schlichenmeyer has been reading since she was three years old, and she lives on a hill in Wisconsin with two dogs and 11,000 books.

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Terri Schlichenmeyer

Terry Schlichenmeyer is a regular contributor to OutSmart Magazine.

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