Author Darin Strauss chatting with Jazmyn Bills, a junior at Joliet High School

Darin Strauss chatting with Jazmyn Bills (junior) after signing her book. Darin Strauss, author of "Half a Life," will be discussing his book, which was chosen as a district wide read in Joliet. (Chicago Tribune / September 12, 2012)

Crystal Matamoros, 14, said Strauss' speech gave her the tools, should she need them, to handle adversity.

"It made me feel that if I have a problem, I can tell somebody about it and they can help me through it, or I can write about it and that can help me through it," she said.

Jack Martin, president of the Young Adult Library Services Association, said young adults often find comfort by sympathizing with characters, whether fictional or real.

Finding a connection with a character "is all about experiencing feelings and emotions from a safe vantage point," Martin said in a phone interview. "So when a kid reads about someone dying, they basically get to experience what the character is experiencing, but it's not personal, it's not them."

Before his presentation, Strauss discussed the experience of publishing a memoir: "I write fiction usually, so I am not really used to people having such a personal reaction to a story."

"It's amazing how strangers just want to share their stories," he said. "I guess when you write a personal story people feel compelled to share their own stories."

After speaking to the freshmen, Strauss spoke to a group of upperclassmen. A book signing followed, and the line stretched across the front of the auditorium.

Many of the older students talked of connecting with Strauss' adversity because they had dealt with their own tragedies: A best friend committing suicide, a father killing himself, a cousin getting shot.

Some also said they left with the feeling of renewal, that if Strauss could overcome his misfortune, so could they — just as Pascoe had found in "Half A Life."

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Strauss also gave a presentation at Joliet Junior College. Pascoe introduced the author, recounting the story of Colin's death and his discovery of Strauss' book. The next night, the two had dinner. Keeping in mind Strauss' anxiety regarding car accidents, which Strauss addressed during one of his presentations, Pascoe chose a restaurant that was near Strauss hotel.

"I couldn't stop smiling, because I was driving and eating with my role model," Pascoe said. "During dinner, we had a very intimate talk about college and whether I should tell people who I meet in college about Colin."

Pascoe said that, for now, he prefers not to tell classmates about his brother.

"I am just trying to make the most of my life and to remind myself that everyone has their tragedies," Pascoe said. "But it's not the tragedies that define us; it's how we go about living after."

Courtney Crowder covers the local literary scene for Printers Row Journal.

"Half A Life"

By Darin Strauss, McSweeney's, 204 pages, $22