Laurel used to have it all—a top spot on the cheerleading team, a loving father and brother who doted on her and T-Boom, the cute co-captain of the basketball team as her Friday night date. But now Laurel doesn’t care about pom poms, basketball or even her family. Because T-Boom introduced her to a new friend—powdery, chalky meth, which Laurel calls moon. And there’s no room for anything else in Laurel’s life now that she has moon. Even T-Boom has become little more than her dealer. Laurel loves how the moon makes her forget how much she misses her mom and grandmother, who died in a hurricane when she was eleven. Alone and living in the back room of an abandoned hardware store, Laurel gets high and writes poems on paper bags, just marking time until she can get more moon. Then she meets Moses, a gay street artist who specializes in memorial paintings of kids who died young. Moses tries to help Laurel, but the moon’s pull is strong. Will Laurel end up being his next subject? This beautifully rendered tome is vintage Woodson, full of bittersweet images of first love, heartache and what it is like to want a drug more than anything else: “Moon smoke so thick around me, like a blanket, like an arm…and me there on the ground in the bright morning, staring out through it—not knowing anything else anymore but this new thing, this wanting nothing, needing nothing, feeling nothing…but moon.”
Vera Dietz would just like everyone to leave her alone. She’s spent most of her life keeping to herself so that no one will ever find out her most terrible secret, the one only her best friend Charlie knows: that her mom left when she was twelve and never came back—and that she supported herself as a stripper when Vera was a baby. She’s learned that playing it safe and turning off your feelings like her formerly alcoholic dad means you never get hurt. But now that Charlie has died, Vera discovers that she can’t hide anymore. Where ever she goes, Charlie’s there. He keeps showing up—at her pizza delivery job, in her car’s glove box, in the woods behind her house. Charlie has secrets too. Charlie needs to tell Vera something important about the night he died, and apologize for how he left things. But Vera doesn’t want to hear. So she stays out all night drinking vodka coolers. She begins making out with a cute college drop-out who’s way too old for her. But nothing drives Charlie’s ghost away. Soon she has no choice but to hear Charlie’s story and finally acknowledge his part in her life–and her part in his death. Author A.S. King uses dark humor to explore themes of alienation, intervention and socio-economic class in a whip-smart story that doesn’t tread over the same old “problem novel” ground. Although the ending wrapped up a bit too neatly for me and I wasn’t a huge fan of the talking pagoda (hard to explain, you’ll just have to read it) Vera (who I picture looking like April from Parks and Recreation) and Charlie’s characters were perfectly executed, and I thoroughly enjoyed getting to know them. And if that’s not enough for you, I think this book trailer gets the mocking, deadpan tone of the book just right. (John Green fans, this is a good in-betweener while you wait for next Alaska.)
Smack, a brilliant druggie novel out of England, chronicles the lives of Tar and Gemma, two teens who run away from home in search of freedom from their parents and authority. What they find is a squatter’s paradise and an addiction to heroin that ends up being stronger than their love for each other. Burgess slowly develops his characters, showing the gradual but devastating effect that regular drug use can have on a human being’s personality and mind. Gemma and Tar became so real to me that I had a hard time leaving them to their fate at the end of the book. No, they don’t die. But sometimes, learning to live after addiction is worse.
Another oldie but a goodie, TWTTIN is a story about two guys who are closer than brothers, and the drug dealing that finally pushes them apart. Bryon is the thinker–at 16 he’s beginning to contemplate the meaning of his hard street existence. Mark is the doer–seeing his actions as part of the big picture over which he ultimately has no control. There’s a lot of lingo in this book that seriously dates it–like references to hippies and hoods, but it creates a great picture of the times–and boy, were they a’changin’ back in 1971 when this book was first published. There’s an excellent scene where Bryon’s friend M&M has a bad acid trip, and the results are enough to turn you off to the idea of drugs forever. Even though it’s dated, this read is deep. Give it a go-go.
The mother-drug-novel of them all, GAA made quite a splash when it was first published back in the early seventies, and has regularly made the banned book list ever since. It was published as a true diary account of a girl who goes from goody-goody to homeless addict due to her introduction to LSD at a party. Since then, it has come out that Alice was actually written by a real author and wasn’t some anonymous girl’s diary after all. Having said that, I don’t think it minimizes the power of this book one iota. If you want to know what its like to take an acid trip, run away from home, or spend a little time in a mental institution, read this book or watch Oliver Stone’s The Doors. Either way, you’ll be wearing a “Drugs Suck!” t-shirt before you can say “This is your brain…”
Benjie likes to do a little heroin, but it’s no big deal, he can stop anytime. He’s not a junkie, he’s not a stoner. But if you listen to the voices of those around him–his long-suffering mother, the grandmother from who’s purse he steals, his old best friend, even his drug dealer, you’ll see that they all agree–Benjie is hooked. Benjie may think he can save himself, but he’s really going to need all the help he can get from his family and friends if he wants to dump the junk before it dumps him. A thin book that makes you think.
The white horse is what Raina calls her mother’s drug habit–first a small, pretty pony that makes you happy, but later on, a huge ravenging stallion that demands attention at any cost. Because of her mother’s addiction, Raina usually stays away from home and instead runs the streets with her boyfriend Sonny, who’s also a junkie. When she discovers she’s preganant, the only person she can turn to is her sympathetic teacher, Ms. Johnson. Can Raina rein in her own white horse? Or will she get taken for a ride?
Strasser’s first book takes a look at drugs from the other end of the spectrum. Instead of focusing on the drug user, Strasser introduces you to the drug pusher, in this case, spoiled rich kid Alex Lazar. Alex is bored with his comfy life in his big house and his chronically absent parents. So, he decides to deal drugs for the fun of it, and loves the immediate popularity it brings him. But when he becomes involved with a traditional girl who’s straighter than straight, and his best friend and co-dealer starts using way too much of their product on the side, Alex has to make some hard decisions that will rock his rich boy world.