Prior to her writing days, Stevenson worked as a social worker and counsellor and interacted with many young people who had either lost someone to suicide, or were struggling with thoughts of suicide themselves. One of her clients died by suicide.
"I went to her funeral, and I — like everybody there — thought, what did I miss? What were the things we should have seen, that I could have done or said?" Stevenson said in an interview with North By Northwest's Sheryl MacKay.
The heavy but important theme of teen suicide is the focus of Stevenson's latest young adult novel, The World Without Us. The story is about two high school friends, Mel and Jeremy, and how they and their families cope after Jeremy's suicide attempt.
Stevenson remembers discussing suicide with friends when she was in high school. She says it was probably by luck that she avoided a situation like the one experienced by the character Mel, who chose not to jump off a bridge while Jeremy did.
"It wasn't serious, but we would say, 'You know, if this doesn't happen or things get worse or whatever, we'll just end it,'" Stevenson said.
"For me it was never a serious conversation, and in hindsight, I wonder about some of my friends and if it was for them."
Stevenson says her book, which takes place in autumnal Florida during a death row watch, is less about finding easy explanations than it is about provoking meaningful discussion.
To hear the full interview with Robin Stevenson, click on the audio labelled: New teen novel aims to provoke discussion about youth suicide.