The Art of Losing by Lizzy Mason

Harley’s only wish is that she could unwind the clock, just reverse time to the moment before she made the impulsive decision to leave her best friend’s party before assuring her sister had a ride home with someone other than her own drunken boyfriend, Mike. Maybe then her sister, Audrey, would not be in the Neuro ICU in a coma, having just barely survived a near-fatal car accident. And although it was not Harley at the wheel, she feels so much responsibility for the whole mess, it may as well have been. Overwhelmed with anger and guilt, Harley muddles through Audrey’s recovery, all the while sorting out issues around her relationships, substance use, and how to manage and express her own very complicated feelings.

Written as a young adult novel by an author who has experienced addiction and rehab treatment herself, this novel seeks to provide a wake-up call for those who try to deny that those in their teens can be addicts, and/or that just alcohol alone can be a drug that can endanger lives. Many minimize the risks of teenage binge drinking that is seen both in high schools and on college campuses, but it in fact takes a huge toll on both the physical and the psychological health of those affected (and often those around them as well) – and alcohol intoxication is a cause of 30% of fatal car accidents in the US. Only when one takes treatment seriously, whether through residential or intensive outpatient rehab or through regular group meetings like AA, can one begin to find a path toward recovery.

Unfortunately, while the message here is crucial, the story itself is part after-school special, part soap opera. The characters are a bit flat and over-privileged (every teen has their own car, somehow), and the plot just misses the mark in plausibility. For example, we learn that somehow, just when Harley realizes her boyfriend is really a dick, she discovers that her literal “boy next door” is really the love of her life? Really? Way too pre-packaged, in my opinion. Why does she need another boyfriend anyway? I would have loved to see her come to an understanding of herself without another guy in the picture, all on her own. That was a bit disappointing…

In spite of my misgivings about the delivery, this novel still raises truly valuable messaging around addressing mental heath treatment, particularly addiction and substance use. If it can sway even one young person to confront their own issue, to turn to someone for help, then the author will have accomplished tremendous good.




Beautiful Boy (migrated from Bookblogger)

Beautiful Boy by David Sheff

I put off reading this book for so long because I knew it would be difficult — and rightfully so.  However, I do believe it is worth reading.  It is the harrowing, true story (probably so much more harrowing because it’s true!) of a father whose son is addicted to methamphetamine.  The account is painstaking and painful, recurrent and repetitive, really because the experience is.  He tells of his son, Nic, who is a bright, talented, truly “beautiful” boy who maybe  and maybe not because of his parents’ difficult divorce and their long-distance custody arrangement, begins to use marijuana.  He quickly moves on to alcohol and other drugs and finally finds his true love in meth.  And the drug, as it tends to do, takes over his life.  When Nic is on the drug, he becomes a different person — cold, impervious, resentful and conniving and completely manipulates his friends and family to enable his drug use.

His is a typical story, evidently, and the author peppers the story with actual research statistics and theories and advice for other parents in the same situation.  Mostly, though, it seems to be a catharsis for this father who writes as his way of coping.  He offers frequently that there is no great advice and there is no single answer to what heals an addict.  It seems there are some addicts who cannot be healed.  Even with treatment and rehab there is relapse and it often seems truly hopeless.

Probably most importantly, the author stresses particularly at the end of the book, the importance of the family members to get treatment themselves.  Being that closely tied to an addict can be just as “addictive” and destructive as being the addict.  It can take over your life just as easily.  This is an important message for those close to anyone with such an overwhelming disease.

As painful as this book was to read, I am so glad I did read it.  I learned so much.