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The American Opioid Crisis in YA Literature

For the past couple of years, national, state and local communities in the United States have been trying to figure out how to deal with the growing opioid crisis. In the city of Mount Vernon, Ohio, where I currently work, I went to a series of training sessions last year that discussed this growing issue. This past year, there was also a state wide day of dialogue about the opioid crisis and public libraries, which some of my peers attended. It has struck me, however, that this topic hasn’t come up as much as it feels like it should given current statistics in YA literature. Until now.

real talk addiction brochure 1 real talk addiction brochure 2

Some Beginning Resources RE The American Opioid Epidemic/Crisis

Opioid Overdose Crisis | National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)

Opioid Epidemic – HHS.gov

Opioid Crisis Fast Facts – CNN – CNN.com

I’ve recently read two forthcoming books which include or directly address the current opioid crisis in not just the United States, but specifically in the state of Ohio. Ohio is current ranked third in terms of states struggling with the impact crisis. Although there are often times when a state wants to be so highly ranked, this is sadly not one of those times. The opioid crisis is having a very real impact on Ohio citizens. I know teens who have watched their parents overdose and been forced to call 911, I know teens who currently have parents serving in jail, and I know teens that are struggling to eat because of poverty who are eating even less because their parents are using whatever little income they have to buy drugs. I don’t know a lot of teens who are doing drugs themselves, though I know that they exist, in part because they don’t appear to be coming into our libraries.

heroine

Heroine by Ohio resident Mindy McGinnis is a realistic look at how one very dedicated, athletic teen with a promising future loses it all because of her slow descent into opioid addiction. In Heroine, Mickey’s use begins as many others has, because she is prescribed pain killers after a devastating accident. It is believed that a lot of our current opioid crisis began because doctors were over prescribing painkillers. In Heroine, Mickey is in a devastating car accident that causes very real trauma to her body and painkillers are prescribed to help control the pain while healing. In part because Mickey tries to rush her healing and get back on the field, her painkiller use becomes amplified. Soon, like many addicts, MC is trying to find ways to get drugs because she can no longer get them through her doctor. Mickey finds herself a supplier and begins hanging out with other addicts as her life spirals out of control.

YA A to Z: Guilt, Shame and Blame – Heroin Overdose Deaths in Teen

With Heroine, McGinnis provides a very realistic look at how addiction works and how even the most successful of us can become caught in its throes. Each decision leads to the next and before our main character knows it, everything about who they are and how they function in the world changes. It’s a hard but necessary read for a world trying to understand what addiction is like. Heroine ends on a realistic but hopeful note, not glossing over the fact that addiction is a lifelong issue but that with the right tools and support, you can put your life back onto a positive track.

The American Opioid Crisis: A Reading List – Book Riot

what you hide

What You Hide by Natalie D. Richards is not about addiction, but it takes place in a public library and it touches on how addiction is effecting libraries. Richards is not only an author, but she is an Ohioan who works during the day in an Ohio public library. I know Natalie and have visited her library (it’s very nice!) and am not surprised to find that she is contemplating the current effect that the opioid crisis is having on public libraries in Ohio. We all are. Most public libraries are making decisions based on the opioid crisis, whether it be trying to determine whether or not staff should be trained in administering Narcan or whether or not to keep the bathroom doors locked. Some libraries have put in needle disposal bins to help protect patrons and staff from loose needles. Some libraries are buying all hardwood furniture so that needles can’t be shoved down upholstered cracks where patrons or staff can be stuck by them. From staff training to resources to programming to policies and procedures, the opioid crisis is having a very definite effect on public libraries in Ohio and nationwide.

8 Fiction Books that Shed Light on the Opioid Crisis – Electric Literature

What You Hide is the story of a homeless teenager named Mallory who hides out in the library after closing for a safe place to stay. She has left home because her stepfather Charlie is psychologically abusive and she is worried about the growing threats of physical violence. At the library, she meets Spencer, who is volunteering at the library to fulfill a community service obligation. Early on in the book, a dead body is found in the library and it is believed that the young woman has died of an overdose. At several points in the book, as Mallory seeks to find a way to solve her problem, as Spencer tries to figure out who he is and who he wants to be, and as they both try to determine the origin of the weird goings on in the library, there are some very realistic discussions about addiction and the current opioid crisis.

See Also: Sunday Reflections: When the Opioid Crisis Hits the Library

If you know anything about the process of publishing, it can take a long time for a book to be written and then published. Books are often announced more than a year before publication date. So even as the crisis has been discussed and building, and as policy makers at all levels are trying to figure out how to address the issues, it has taken a while for the issue to be discussed and reflected in YA literature because of this slow publishing turnaround. There are plenty of YA literature titles that discuss addiction and substance abuse in general, though not nearly enough, but there are few that touch on this current opioid epidemic in particular. I was grateful as an Ohioan, as a public librarian, and as a teen librarian to read these titles. I thought that they both did a good job of talking about the issues, raising awareness, and helping us to better understand the current crisis in our world. They are very much needed in the world of contemporary YA literature. Our teens are dealing with these issues, our teen literature should be as well.

Additional Resources

Northeast Ohio Libraries Feel Impact of Opioid Epidemic

The Opioid Epidemic: How Can My Library Help? – PLA 2018

Opioid Symposium – Ohio Library Council

Libraries Confront the Opioid Crisis – School Library Journal

Opioids in Communities, Libraries in Response – State Library of Ohio

About Heroine by Mindy McGinnis

Three screws in her hip.
Two months until spring training.
One answer to all her problems.

Mickey Catalan is no stranger to the opioid epidemic in her small town. There are obituaries of classmates who “died suddenly” and stories of overdoses in gas station bathrooms—but none of that is her. No, Mickey is a star softball catcher—one part of a dynamic duo with her best friend and pitcher Carolina—about to start her senior season with hopes of college recruitment. Until a car accident shatters that plan, along with her hip and Carolina’s arm.

Now Mickey is hurting. She can barely walk, much less crouch behind the plate. Yet a little white pill can make it better. After all, it is doctor prescribed. But when the prescription runs out, Mickey turns to an elderly woman who pushes hot meatloaf and a baggie full of oxy across the kitchen counter. It’s there Mickey makes new friends—other athletes in pain, others with just time to kill—and finds peaceful acceptance, a place where she can find words more easily than she ever has before. But as the pressure to be Mickey Catalan heightens, her desire for pills becomes less about pain and more about want, something that could send her spiraling out of control.

Coming out March 2019 by Katherine Tegen Books

About What You Hide by Natalie D. Richards

A new pulse-pounding romantic thriller from the author of We All Fall Down and Six Months Later

Spencer volunteers at the library. Sure, it’s community service, but he likes his work. Especially if it means getting to see Mallory.

Mallory spends a lot of time keeping her head down. When you’re sixteen and homeless, nothing matters more than being anonymous. But Spencer’s charm makes her want to be noticed.

Then sinister things start happening at the library. Mysterious symbols and terrifying warnings begin to appear, and management grows suspicious. Spencer and Mallory know a homeless teenager makes an easy target, and if they can’t find the real culprit soon, they could lose more than just their safe haven…

Coming December 2018 by Sourcefire Books

Book Review: I Felt a Funeral, in My Brain by Will Walton

Publisher’s description

funeralHow do you deal with a hole in your life?

Do you turn to poets and pop songs?

Do you dream?

Do you try on love just to see how it fits?

Do you grieve?

If you’re Avery, you do all of these things. And you write it all down in an attempt to understand what’s happened–and is happening–to you.

I Felt a Funeral, In My Brain is an astonishing novel about navigating death and navigating life, at a time when the only map you have is the one you can draw for yourself.

 

Amanda’s thoughts

Things in Avery’s life are not going great. He’s laid up after being injured in a car accident. His mother has (finally) gone to rehab. He’s temporarily living across the street from his home with his grandpa, whom he calls Pal, and his grandpa’s girlfriend, Babs. Things are a little weird with Luca, his neighbor and best friend—they’d made a plan to be each other’s firsts, but this seemingly simple plan is complicated by life and complex feelings. Through all of this, Avery, who writes poetry, is discovering the work of many other poets (Plath, Berryman, Sexton, O’Hara, Ginsberg, Dickinson), thanks to his English teacher, and finding his own voice and ways of processing life.

 

Walton’s novel will challenge readers. It’s a mix of narrative, poems, imagined conversations/dreams, and bits of a eulogy. As we move back and forth in time, readers will see that Avery is speaking at Pal’s funeral, but it takes a while to find out how we got there. Avery’s grief, pain, loss, fears, love, hope, passions, and identity all get expressed and explored through poetry and music. This short book packs a powerful punch as it looks at grief, love, addiction, and hope. 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9780545709569
Publisher: Scholastic, Inc.
Publication date: 05/29/2018

YA A to Z: Guilt, Shame and Blame – Heroin Overdose Deaths in Teen Fiction, a guest post by Kerry Sutherland

As I contemplate where to put this in YA A to Z, I realize there are far too many options. D for drugs, or death. E for epidemic, as our country is facing a devastating opioid epidemic. G for guilt. H for Heroine.  S for shame. I wanted to put it up now as opposed to later, because it’s such an important topic facing our teens today. So D it is, for death by drug overdose. I am thankful to Kerry Sutherland for sharing this post, and sharing her own experiences within it.

yaatoz

As a young adult librarian, I meet many children and teens who have lost a loved one. Terminal illnesses, tragic accidents, suicide – I’ve heard about them all, and as an adult who still has the luxury of two living parents and a large group of friends I have known since kindergarten, I know how fortunate I am to have lost few of those close to me unexpectedly.

Unfortunately, some of those few have been young people in my family, and whether accepted or admitted as such or not, more than one of those deaths have been from a heroin overdose.

Wait – those don’t happen to middle class, white suburban families, do they?

real talk addiction brochure 1

real talk addiction brochure 2

Sunday Reflections: When the Opioid Crisis Hits the Library

My family would beg to differ, as shocked and pained as they were by each one. Did any of them struggle with addiction? Yes, but not all. Were there signs? Maybe, but maybe not. The big question is why. With family and friends who loved them, why? Was it accidental, or did they truly want to die? As those left behind, what have we as a family, and their friends, had to deal with, both within our own hearts and minds and those of others who are either quick to sympathize or to judge, or to act as if heroin played no role in the deaths at all because they are ashamed?

#MHYALit: Where Are the Books on Addiction for Your Mental Health Lists?

Plenty of teen fiction deals with death and loss, with grief and mourning, but when I looked into what novels I could offer teens in my area, which as a part of northeast Ohio has been hit hard by the opiate epidemic, I found very few that focus on heroin overdose deaths. What is different about those deaths, and why do teens need stories with that distinction, especially if they have either known someone who has overdosed or are vulnerable to becoming a user themselves?

A closer look at each of these titles makes the distinction and the need clear.

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In Sarah Porter’s When I Cast Your Shadow, two months have passed since Ruby’s “young and talented and amazing” older brother Dash died from a heroin overdose, but she is still devastated, in spite of her father’s attempt to force her, as well as Ruby’s twin brother Everett, to move on. Dash’s room has been emptied, new furniture replacing the old, and Ruby is trapped in memories of her attempts to follow Dash into rough neighborhoods, of Dash’s anger that she was exposing herself to his new life and that she had found him “crazed, filthy, with a feverish stench”: “You do not have my permission to see me like this . . . you will keep your image of me as bright and clean and blazing as a supernova.” Unfortunately, as much as she fights to maintain the dignity of Dash’s memory, she can’t forget that she knew about his addiction but was unable to prevent his death. Her father looks the facts straight on as if it would help Ruby get past her grief, telling her that Dash was manipulative, destructive, and selfish, but Ruby feels like “the only one who will fight for Dash, now that he can’t defend himself.” She was the only one who had any hope that he would get clean, and while she didn’t see his body after he died, she “heard they found him, naked in his girlfriend’s bed . . . with his head hanging over the edge and the needle still in his arm. Eyes wide and gray in the silvery morning light.” She thought that he had kicked heroin six months before his death, making it more of a shock. “I’ll never love anybody that much again,” she asserts, coming to realize that her father’s hatred of Dash is his way of coping with the loss, but knowing that no matter what anyone thinks or does, Dash is gone forever. There is a supernatural horror aspect to this story, but the details of Dash’s addiction and how that along with the manner of his death affects Ruby and Everett are the powerful drive behind this tragedy.

drugs2

When Andria’s twin sister Iris overdoses on heroin in Robin Bridges’ Dreaming of Antigone, Andria can’t help but feel guilty. Born with a disorder that causes seizures, Andria had been faking one to distract her parents from Iris’s partying the night Iris died, and if they had been home instead of at the hospital with Andria, Iris might have been saved. Iris’s boyfriend Alex, who is “about as broken as they come,” is back from rehab, but Andria can’t forgive his role in encouraging Iris’s drug use, which was brought on by their stepfather’s abuse. Iris’s friends try to include Andria in their social activities, but Andria’s heart isn’t in it, and she can’t “fill the Iris-shaped hole” in their lives. Her nightmares about Iris revolve around guilt and blame, as Iris is angry with her but she can’t “hear her in my dreams because I never heard her crying out for help in real life” and she feels “like I never really knew my sister at all. And now that she’s gone, I won’t ever get the chance.” Her mother doesn’t think Andria needs counseling, however, fearing that it would be an admission of emotional weakness, but Andria knows she “can’t fix myself, not yet.” As Andria spends more time with Alex, “the boy who killed my sister,” she is forced to face her sister’s responsibility for her own behavior. “Your life was perfect before I came and turned your sister into a drug addict, right?” Alex sneers as he confronts her, and even when they discover Iris’s terrible reason for her drug use, they both know that the only thing they can do is honor her memory by keeping the girls’ stepfather from hurting more girls. Nothing will bring Iris back, but the pain of her loss and the preventability of her death continue to haunt them half a year after she is gone, as Andria tries to determine who is at fault: “Maybe we all failed her, because we didn’t know she needed help.”

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The Unlikelies by Carrie Firestone has a cute cover and a jacket blurb that focuses on the standard ‘summer before their senior year of high school’ woes: boyfriend drama and popularity concerns. What it doesn’t detail is the heroin addiction that threatens to kill one of the secondary characers. Sadie reconnects with Alice after they’ve grown apart, but has fond memories of Girl Scouting adventures with Alice and another girl, Izzy. Alice reveals that after becoming addicted to Oxy following a riding accident, Izzy has “been doing heroin pretty much every day, and it’s getting worse.” Izzy disappears when Alice threatens to tell her parents, and Sadie is stunned: “I had a vivid memory of baby-faced Izzy playing tug-of-war in her riding boots and braids at one of our jamborees. I couldn’t believe she was doing heroin.” Alice’s texts to Sadie detail Alice’s fears as Izzy gets worse: “At the hospital. Izzy might be dead. Please come” and later, she asks, “Who overdoses on a Tuesday afternoon?” Alice feels guilty about “allowing” Izzy to disappear, about “letting go away with that hideous dealer,” and is understandably furious with Izzy’s parents, who are so disconnected from their daughter that they don’t realize that she is using until the overdose. “This is hell. Some guy she’s sleeping with called 911 when she turned gray and her lips went blue and she choked on her own vomit . . . I can’t even tell you what it has been like to deal with my best friend nodding off, trying to score smack all day, stealing money from my car, lying, smelling like shit because she never showers. It’s hell.” The group of friends make a dangerous visit to a trap house looking for Izzy, as Alice bluntly reveals that Izzy is probably having sex with whomever will give her heroin. The story concludes with Izzy in rehab in another state, with no clear hope that she will get better, especially since her parents are still in denial and are shamed by the gossip that Izzy’s sexual and addictive behaviors have garnered in the community. Sadie’s heart aches for Alice and Izzy, but how can Alice move on with her life knowing that Izzy is still at risk?

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Kayla is a popular and athletic honor student, so when her boyfriend and best friends find her dead of a heroin overdose days before their senior year begins in Cecily Wolfe’s That Night, they are stunned and heartbroken. Some of their classmates are kind, but others are judgmental, and as texts roll in on Cassidy and Sarah’s phones, they discover that not everyone is sympathetic to their loss. What about other teens who have died of drug overdoses, some texts ask. Why didn’t they get any attention? Cass and Sarah have never heard of anyone else dying in this way in their town, but soon they realize that Kayla’s status and background make her stand out as someone worthy of mourning, unlike teens in rougher neighborhoods where the community has come to accept the losses as part of life. Both girls feel guilty, believing that they could have prevented Kayla’s death, as Kayla’s failed attempts to get help from her parents and doctors after a sports injury left her in constant pain and open to self-medicating. A soccer teammate refers to Kayla as a “junkie” during calling hours at the funeral home, and a normally quiet Sarah attacks her, because “Kayla was gone and there was nothing else she could do for her but fight.” Adults tell them to “get on with your life” but their insensitivity reflects the way Kayla’s problems were treated as insignificant while she was alive. Cassidy and Sarah decide that in honor of Kayla, they can bring attention to the kids who are dying without being noticed, to “give them a voice” and start focusing on bringing a stop to heroin availability in their community: “Why the hell did she do it? What would make a girl like Kayla want to, even once? If someone like Kayla could do it, that meant a lot of kids could, kids no one would ever think would use.” Finding Kayla unresponsive at the party, holding her “limp hand between her two, as if she could warm Kayla’s heart through her fingers,” is a memory that Sarah, who had held Kayla while Paul tried to revive her and Cassidy called 911, and the others will carry with them the rest of their lives, but their guilt and questions can’t change the reality of her death.

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Lo’s brother Oren has been her saving grace her whole life in Kate Ellison’s The Butterfly Clues, as the childhood onset of obsessive compulsive behaviors and constant moves because of their father’s job make it difficult to find friends. His death from a heroin overdose a year earlier exacerbated her behaviors, and her parents have abandoned her, her mother confined to sleeping in her room and her father to his work. She wears her brother’s shirt and dreams of Oren sitting on his grave, begging her to help him, asking her why she left him. Lo wonders if Oren “thought he was missed, as he eased down the gradual slop of his slipping away from us, from everything, into nothing” or did he think she didn’t care? Once Oren had saved her from drowning in a creek, but she couldn’t save him, and her guilt is crushing: “I wonder if Oren thought we didn’t care. It’s probably why he didn’t come back, why he ended up rotted away in some abandoned building somewhere.” If he was there with her now, she would never let him go again. Her dreams are full of Oren calling to her, her bright beautiful brother who had been “so close. Just a couple of miles away. And we sat, waiting, doing nothing, while he fell apart, disintegrated.” He wasn’t found until he had been dead a week, and the details of what remained are horrifying: “The only thing left after his skin melted off in that apartment where he died, all alone” were his teeth. Her own memories of him the last time she saw him are haunted by how skinny he was, how “his eyes were ringed with purplish disks, his hands shaking” and she wonders if he knew that he was leaving her forever. Her father hates her compulsive behaviors and just wants her to be “normal” but he eventually comes to realize how his expectations and the way he and Lo’s mother have been dealing with their own grief is hurting Lo. Whatever changes are on the horizon for her family, Lo holds “every single moment I ever had with him” close: “I have them all – folded into a million messy drawers in my brain; they belong to me, my dowry, my heritage.”

What do these novels have in common that make the stories stand out from others about death and mourning, speaking to the difference of experience these teen characters have by losing someone to a heroin overdose?

The details of the manner of death. The horror. It’s real, it’s honest, it’s heartbreaking.

The shame. The guilt. The questions. The big WHY? Why did he or she use? Why didn’t I know? Why couldn’t I stop it from happening?

The blame game. Was it he dealer? The loved one? The drug? Yourself?

The judgment. The shame. The defensiveness. The contradictory feelings that fight a weary, unwinnable battle in your heart.

As heroin continues to add to its death toll in my state and many others, those of us who serve and support young people will need more of these stories to help them cope with the realities they face, as well as to show them the devastating effects this drug has on users and those who love them.

Meet Our Guest Blogger

Kerry Sutherland is the young adult librarian at the Ellet branch of the Akron-Summit County Public Library in Akron, Ohio. She has a PhD in American literature from Kent State University, along with a MLIS from the same. She reviews middle grade and young adult fiction and nonfiction for School Library Journal, and is a published author of short fiction, novels, poetry, professional and academic work. She loves cats, Shadowhunters, Henry James, anime, and NASCAR.

Twitter: @catfriends

Instagram: @superpurry

Sunday Reflections: When the Opioid Crisis Hits the Library

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Like many libraries across the country, we talk frequently at mine about the opioid crisis happening across the U.S. and in our local communities. We have had a couple of people OD in our library and we have had to call the squad, but not nearly as much as other libraries have. We have also had to call the police for suspected dealing.

YA titles dealing with the topic of addiction

YA titles dealing with the topic of addiction

As a librarian, I have been trying to use my research ninja skills to find some concrete statistics about how bad, exactly, the epidemic is, but good stats are surprisingly hard to find. A law enforcement officer in another Ohio community I used to live said that community has about 10 overdoses (without death) a day. I hear the one I work in has one a day. Several counties in Ohio have high national ranking for how bad the crisis is in that area.

Opioid Epidemic: A State by State Look at a National Crisis

Opioid Addiction 2016 Facts & Figures – American Society of Addiction

About the Epidemic | HHS.gov

Understanding the Epidemic | Drug Overdose | CDC Injury Center

Responding to the Opioid Morbidity and Mortality Crisis – FDA

Ohio has also been in the news as many communities wrestle with how to respond to the crisis. A local sheriff refuses to allow his men to carry and administer a life saving drug while in Philadelphia these librarians carry and administer that very same drug. Part of the debate surrounding who, if anyone, should be saved, is this idea that drug addiction is a moral personal failing as opposed to a disease. Whether or not you think we should work to save the lives of and treat or incarcerate the victims of overdoses depends on your view of what, exactly, addiction is and how it happens.

The Neurobiology of Opioid Dependence: Implications for Treatment

Big mystery: What causes addiction? | NBC News

Addiction vs Physical Dependence – Important distinction – NAABT

My community has put together a task force who recently did a series of community training sessions about the topic of the opioid crisis and its impact on our local community. While at this training I met the parents of a young man in his twenties who had died from an overdose. He was a college educated man who wore a suit every day to his very successful job. He looked nothing like the pictures of what an addict looks like that the officers were sharing and they were there in part to dispel that myth. As the opioid crisis worsens, our understanding of seems to shift.

real talk addiction brochure 2

real talk addiction brochure 1

At the training I learned a variety of equally horrifying and interesting facts. Much of the drug trafficking in our community occurs via bicycle because it is easier to evade the police. Some drugs are made in Gatorade and water bottles which can explode if touched so we should teach our children not to be good environmental citizens and pick up said bottles to place them in the trash but to avoid them and call the police, just in case. Something like 95% of all local crime can be linked back to the opioid epidemic as people become violent, or engage in various petty crimes to steal money to fuel their addiction. This epidemic is severely impacting and taxing local communities at all levels, whether it be emergency responders or its impact on our children.

The opioid crisis is straining the nation’s foster-care systems

It’s important for us to remember that there are real people being impacted by the opioid crisis. One of my regular teens recently shared that she watched her mother overdose on the front lawn. She called for help and her mother was then in a treatment center. This was my teen, a girl I have watched grow up, sharing this heartbreaking story of watching her mother overdose on the lawn.

This is a great YA title on addiction (alcohol addiction)

This is a great YA title on addiction (alcohol addiction)

We talk frequently about the best policies and procedures going forward for our library in the midst of this epidemic. A library I worked at previously recently put in a sharps disposal box in the restrooms as an employee had been stabbed by a needle and they wanted to prevent it from happening in the future. We have discussed things likes narcan (we do not have this on hand primarily due to cost and concerns about life saving responsibilities), when to call the police, how to respond if we see someone using or dealing, how to dispose of drugs we find left in the bathroom and more. It’s an ongoing discussion, and one I have never had in my twenty-three plus years of working in libraries. And yet here we are.

Like many libraries and many people, I find myself wrestling with this information on a daily basis. I certainly don’t have any answers, but I think we should be talking about it more. I can’t help but think of what happens to this generation of children moving forward. When we start using words like crisis and epidemic, it’s past time to start acting.

Resources: #MHYALit – Teens and Addiction Brochure

MHYALitlogoofficfial

Earlier this month, I shared two brochures that I created for my library regarding sexual violence and suicide for teens. At that time I was researching and attending some local training about the current opioid epidemic. As promised, I created a brochure and am sharing it with you today. The contact information is local information and the titles are titles that I have in my collection, they are by no means comprehensive.

real talk addiction brochure 1

real talk addiction brochure 2

Book Review: City of Angels by Kristi Belcamino

Publisher’s description

city of angelsNikki Black has been self-imposed lone wolf since her mother died, fleeing suburban Chicago to escape her painful past. But when her so-called boyfriend reveals why he really lured her to Southern California, she ends up on the streets of Los Angeles with only the clothes on her back and a destitute twelve-year-old named Rain following in her shadows. The girls seek refuge at a residential hotel above a punk rock bar in downtown L.A. a few months before the city erupts into chaos during the 1992 riots that nearly razed the city of angels to the ground.

At The American Hotel, Nikki makes friends and, for the first time in years, feels as if she has a real family again. But everything changes when Rain disappears. Everyone believes Rain succumbed to the seductive allure of addiction and life on the streets, another life lost that seemingly nobody will miss—except for Nikki. Determined to find Rain, Nikki burrows deeper into the underbelly of a city that hides darkness beneath the glamour. And when she unveils a sinister cover-up by a powerful group that secretly controls the city of angels, she could lose everything, including her life.

City of Angels is an edgy, gritty, and riveting Young Adult mystery about a young woman’s struggle to not only belong ― but survive.

 

Amanda’s thoughts

Nikki thought escaping to L.A. with Chad, a decade-older guy she barely knew, would get her away from all of her problems. Unsurprisingly, it just lands her in a whole new set of problems.

 

Nikki’s family has fallen apart–her addict mother is dead and her father, unable to cope, blames Nikki and cuts all ties with her. Once in L.A., she meets Chad’s director friend, the one who will (of course) make her a star–except that’s not true at all. The sketchy (but powerful) director and Chad would like to put her in some films, yes, but they’re child porn flicks. She manages to get out of the director’s house with Rain, a 12-year-old she meets there, in tow. Now not only is she homeless in L.A., where she knows no one, but she’s got this young girl with her. Nikki finds a cheap room in the American Hotel, above a punk rock bar, where she hopes Rain will stay, too. But Rain’s hooked on heroin and Nikki, not only scarred by her mom’s drug use and death but totally out of her element here, has to help her detox. It’s just another thing that Nikki unexpectedly finds herself dealing with. Thankfully, the other residents of the hotel are friendly and help her with Rain. But when Rain takes off–and appears to be kidnapped–things become really interesting.

 

In addition to waitressing and trying to survive on her own in L.A., Nikki now is wrapped up in figuring out who took Rain and still worrying about being found by Chad and the director she escaped from. Before long, people she interacted with are ending up dead. Nikki and her hotelmates work to put all the pieces of this mystery together, finally focusing their investigation on people associated with The Church of the Evermore Enlightened and the Star Center, a Scientology-like group full of celebrities and secrets. They begin to amass evidence that points to who took Rain, but have learned that the LAPD has many members in cahoots with the Star Center people, so they’re unsure what to do with their information when it seems like they can’t trust anyone. Things come to a head as the city explodes in the aftermath of the verdict in the Rodney King case. Nikki and friends make their way through the more-dangerous-than-usual city in hopes of saving Rain, but learn that nothing is as it has seemed.

 

Belcamino usually writes for adults, and her foray here into YA is good for older readers looking for a little more edge and slightly older characters in their YA books (Rain–who is absent most of the book– and Nikki are younger than the rest of the residents of the hotel). Though at times the plot requires a suspension of disbelief, and Nikki makes some choices that will leave readers shaking their heads, this is a well-paced story full of plenty of action and distinct, diverse characters. Nikki is tough, resourceful, determined, and just the right amounts of naive, sheltered, and foolish. This gritty look at the life of a runaway girl trying to keep off the streets in early 90s L.A. will easily appeal to fans of mysteries and thrillers. 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781943818433

Publisher: Polis Books

Publication date: 05/09/2017

#MHYALit: USING YOUNG ADULT LITERATURE TO COMBAT THE SECRECY OF ADDICTION, a guest post by Heather Smith Meloche

Today we are honored to host another #MHYALit Discussion post, this one about addiction. Author Heather Smith Meloche writes about addiction in her new Putnam release, RIPPLE.

You can read all the #MHYALit posts here or click on the #MHYALit tag.

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When I finished writing my novel, Ripple – a contemporary YA about two teens caught up in the ripples of addiction from one generation to the next — and sent it out into the world for publication, I never wanted to be the “face” of it. I wanted the book to stand on the legs I gave it, take its words to whoever needed them, and do the tough promotional work without me. Part of the reason was because I, like many writers, am a private person. Introverted. More comfortable in the confines of my writing study than standing in front of people talking. But the bigger reason I didn’t want to talk publicly about my book was because of secrecy.

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I grew up with an alcoholic stepdad, just as he had grown up with his alcoholic father. And I learned, as he had, that telling people about the liquor-induced chaos behind my front door was only going to make me less “normal,” less accepted, casting a pariah-like shadow on me. So I never talked about it, nor did my family. I rarely invited friends over to my house. My best friends knew of what I lived with, but there was a silent pact to never bring it up.

I thought, as my mother and sister most likely did, that being tight-lipped and closed off was an act of self-preservation, but like a kind of domestic Petri dish, my step-dad’s addiction and my destructive symptoms of living with it grew monumentally, overflowing into the healthy areas of my life as my teen years progressed.

The reason my home life got worse was simple: Addiction is built, cultivated, and perpetuated through silence and secrets. It germinates by being hidden and feeds off the simple maxim that if you don’t state the problem, you can’t fix it. Luckily, I became a writer, realizing quickly that YA literature is one of the best, most healing ways of stating the problem.

Recently, I went into a high school and talked to all the Language Arts students about writing and how I became a novelist. As I talked, I stated that I grew up in an alcoholic home. Heads popped up. I mentioned my husband also grew up with an alcoholic mom who was most likely bipolar, though she was always too drunk and drugged on prescription pills to correctly diagnose, and those high schoolers leaned in closer. When I talked about how my husband and I struggled to combat the patterns of addiction in ourselves, those teens looked at me like I had just physically folded inside out.

I mean, who was I to be saying out loud in such a blunt way that I had lived with addiction and struggled with my own? That’s way too embarrassing to bring inside high school walls. It’s mortifying. Uncool. Un-normal. And still, those kids who were engaged when I spoke were focused and locked in because they, heartbreakingly, understood exactly what I was talking about and felt the need to keep talking about it.

Close to 12 percent of children in the United States live with a parent addicted to drugs or alcohol, and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) points out suffering from the emotional stress of living with an addicted parent can lead to irreparable damage socially and emotionally, making these kids more likely to become addicted themselves.* Yet, unlike the affliction of cancer or heart disease, addiction is looked at as an immoral choice made by someone flawed. So community support tends to fall short. The stigma surrounding the mention of addiction is thick, and the isolation felt by those who deal with it is oppressive.

But YA writing brings hope. With YA writers and their editors now able to delve more deeply into tough topics, today’s YA books can tackle the scope of addiction not just in all its gritty reality and tragic circumstances, but also with potentially optimistic outcomes. These stories have the ability to cut through the shame and stigma of talking openly about the issues, and with more discussion, a path is paved for librarians and teachers to more effectively recommend the appropriate book at the appropriate time for each teen reader.

During the promotion of my book, I’ve caught myself telling people my novel “isn’t for everybody” or “it’s really for those who have been through it.” But that’s simply me being the shameful child of an alcoholic — my long-conditioned, knee-jerk reaction to hide the disease. Yet keeping in mind the high social and financial cost of alcoholism and drug abuse affecting everyone, I’ve learned to turn secrets into tools to reach teen readers and get healthy discussions rolling, which, hopefully, can open doors for a forum of understanding and for finding help for those kids who need it.

About RIPPLE

When their too-adult lives lead them down self-destructive paths, these broken teens find a way to heal in this YA novel perfect for fans of Ellen Hopkins.

With her impossible-to-please grandmother on her back about college and her disapproving step-dad watching her every move, Tessa would do anything to escape the pressure-cooker she calls home. So she finds a shot of much-needed power and confidence by hooking up with boys, even though it means cheating on her boyfriend. But when she’s finally caught red-handed, she’ll do anything she can to cover up what she’s done.

Jack is a prankster who bucks the system every chance he gets—each transgression getting riskier and riskier. He loves the thrill, and each adventure allows a little release because his smug smile and suave demeanor in the face of authority doesn’t make life at home with his mom any less tough. He tries to take care of her, but the truth is he’s powerless in the face of her fragile mental health. So he copes in his own way, by defacing public property and pulling elaborate pranks, though he knows in the end this’ll only screw up his life even more.

As they both try not to let their self-destructive patterns get the best of them, Tessa and Jack gravitate toward one another, discovering the best parts of themselves in the process. An honest portrayal of the urges that drive us and finding the strength to overcome them.

Meet Heather Smith Meloche

heathersmithmelocheHeather Smith Meloche has had the honor of winning the Katherine Paterson Prize and the Writer’s Digest National Competition for her children’s/young adult writing. She lives with her family in Michigan and spends her days sampling a wide variety of chocolate, letting her dogs in and out constantly, and writing and reading as much as she can.

Win a Copy of RIPPLE!

Heather has generously donated 3 copies of RIPPLE to give away, 1 each to 3 lucky winners. You must be a U.S. resident to enter to win. Enter by doing the Rafflecopter thingy below by Saturday, November 12th.
a Rafflecopter giveaway

#MHYALit Book Review: Girl in Pieces by Kathleen Glasgow

girlinpiecesPublisher’s description

Charlotte Davis is in pieces. At seventeen she’s already lost more than most people do in a lifetime. But she’s learned how to forget. The broken glass washes away the sorrow until there is nothing but calm. You don’t have to think about your father and the river. Your best friend, who is gone forever. Or your mother, who has nothing left to give you.

Every new scar hardens Charlie’s heart just a little more, yet it still hurts so much. It hurts enough to not care anymore, which is sometimes what has to happen before you can find your way back from the edge.
A deeply moving portrait of a girl in a world that owes her nothing, and has taken so much, and the journey she undergoes to put herself back together. Kathleen Glasgow’s debut is heartbreakingly real and unflinchingly honest. It’s a story you won’t be able to look away from.

 

Amanda’s thoughts

Do you like nearly unremittingly bleak stories? Then do I have a book for you! Now don’t jump ahead and assume that I mean that in any kind of damning way. I like bleak. I like real bleak. I like books where I think, good lord, more bad stuff? So keep reading, okay?

 

We meet Charlie as she is just getting settled in a treatment facility. She’s a cutter who has done too thorough of a job and just spent a week in the hospital. At the facility, she’s silent—selective mutism. She’s been through a lot. Prior to landing in the facility, she was homeless for nearly a year. Now in treatment, she’s getting the help she so desperately needs, grateful to be indoors, warm, and fed. But money and/or insurance doesn’t last forever, and way too soon she’s being cut loose, released to her abusive mother. Instead of going home with her mother, she’s handed some money, her birth certificate, and a bus ticket to Arizona. Great parenting. Charlie heads out there alone. Her friend Mikey is there, but Mikey’s tied to a lot of her past. He’s also not around much, so when he leaves on tour with a band, Charlie is truly alone. She gets a job washing dishes at a cafe, where she meets Riley, a sometimes charming junkie ten years her senior who quickly gets into her head, heart, and pants. Riley is horrible for Charlie. She’s trying so hard to move on from her past, but that’s not easy. Every day is a struggle for her to not cut herself. She makes a lot of crappy choices around and because of Riley. There are small good things mixed in among all this bleakness. Charlie finds solace in drawing and is going to have some of her art in a show. She’s making… I wouldn’t say “friends” at work, but she’s interacting with her coworkers and coming out of her shell a little. And when things fall apart in a pretty epic way, Charlie learns she has more support, resources, and hope than she had imagined.

 

Glasgow’s writing is stunning, moving from lush and poetic to choppy and spare. We’re in Charlie’s head a lot and slowly learn about her background—her father’s suicide, her best friend’s near-suicide, her abusive mother, her life on the streets. She isn’t much for talking, even with Riley, who’s far too self-absorbed to really think to ever ask her anything  about herself. Glasgow’s story is gritty and grim and at times almost too much to bear. I admit to taking lots of breaks while reading this one. People bend, break, leave, disappoint, hurt, die, suffer, and harm. In most cases, they also heal, change, recover, and hope in this astoundingly sad, astonishingly poignant debut.

 

For more on Girl in Pieces, see Glasgow’s previous piece for our blog, “This Book Will Save Your Life.”

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781101934715

Publisher: Random House Children’s Books

Publication date: 08/30/2016

Book Review: Rebel, Bully, Geek, Pariah by Erin Jade Lange

Publisher’s description

rebelThe Rebel: Once popular, Andi is now a dreadlocked and tattooed wild child.
The Bully: Sick of being the less favorite son, York bullies everyone, especially his brother.
The Geek: Boston, York’s brother, and obsessed with getting into an Ivy League school.
The Pariah: Sam, now that her mom is sober, she just wants to get through one day at a time.

Andi, Sam, York, and Boston find themselves in the woods together when a party gets busted by the cops. Trying to run rather than get caught, they hop into the nearest car they see and take off . . . until they realize the car they’ve taken has a trunk is full of stolen drugs. Now they must rely on each other or risk their lives. Should they run or turn themselves in? Would anyone even believe the drugs aren’t theirs? Every decision could determine the rest of their lives . . . but how can any of them trust people they barely know.

In a cinematic, heart-pounding race against time, four teens learn more about one other in a few hours than they ever knew in all the years they attended school together. And what they find out isn’t at all what any of them expected . . .

 

Amanda’s thoughts

The story starts at the end: Sam is visiting with her mother in jail. Sam’s mom, a drug addict, has spent significant time in both jail and prison. We quickly learn bits and pieces of the story—Sam’s mom could’ve been a big country music star, but addiction stole that dream from her. Sam makes oblique references to an accident and the resulting scars all over her head. When Sam pursues Andi, a good girl gone “bad” who steals the violin Sam is hoping to buy back from the pawn shop, she has no idea what she’s in for.

 

The publisher’s description sums up the plot pretty well. Andi and Sam end up at a party in the woods, where they encounter brothers York and Boston. When cops bust the party, the foursome decide to hide. They witness something shady going on with some police down by the dock. They’re not really sure what they’ve witnessed, actually, but they do know that getting out of the woods is priority number one. They steal the SUV by the dock, accidentally hit a police officer with it, are shot at by someone—the good cops or the potentially crooked cops, who knows—and flee. Panicking, Boston and York direct them to a rural cabin, where maybe they can write up a statement of how this big misunderstanding happened and clear this up. Add in a million dollars worth of heroin in the SUV, someone pursuing them, and the fact that everyone but Sam is now wanted for questioning, and you’ve got quite a mess. They’re not sure who might be on the good side or the bad side in this nightmare that’s just getting worse at every turn.

 

Short chapters labeled “before” fill in details of all four main characters’ lives, but also interrupt the pacing and the suspense. The four teens spend most of the book being pursued and without a whole lot of resources to save themselves. We sometimes spend a bit too much time inside Sam’s head, which slows the story down, but overall it’s a fast-paced adventure. Though the four initially don’t appear to have much in common or even hardly know each other (with the exception of the two brothers), they reveal a lot about their lives, pressures, expectations, and disappointments as they try to untangle the mess they’ve gotten themselves into. It is also a revealing look at addiction and what it’s like to live with a parent who’s a drug addict. Lange really ups the tension and the action in the last few chapters, and a twist to the story will make readers reevaluate what they thought was going on. This quick read will appeal to readers who like action and adventure, and don’t mind if the story sometimes lags or feels a little implausible. 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781619634985

Publisher: Bloomsbury USA

Publication date: 02/16/2016

#MHYALit: Where Are the Books on Addiction for Your Mental Health Book List? by author Christa Desir

Today as part of the release day celebration for her third novel, OTHER BROKEN THINGS, author Christa Desir is joining us for #MHYALit to talk about addiction.

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Whenever I see lists of books about mental illness, I am always baffled by the complete omission of any books on addiction. But recently, a friend told me that she doesn’t consider addiction to be a mental illness since there is a choice in deciding to use, but not in what is going on with your emotions.

Wait…what?

I was completely shocked to hear this. First, drug use disorders and drug dependence are both catalogued in the DSM, which is sort of the preeminent book on all mental health disorders. Second, new research is being done every day to identify the cause of addiction (and why some are more susceptible to it) and many theorize there could be deficiencies in the brain reward systems of the people who are more likely to become addicts. Third, in many cases of addiction, there are numerous other mental health issues in play and it is often difficult to ascertain what is exactly causing different behaviors (for example: depressives who self-medicate with alcohol become more depressed because of the effects of alcohol). And finally, even if there is no absolute consensus on the cause of addiction, there is a tremendous amount of agreement on the distorted cognitive and emotional functioning of addicts.

But our country was founded on principles of strength and self-reliance and discipline, so more often than not, people have little empathy for addicts. I have heard over and over, “Well, they did it to themselves.” As if systems of oppression, marginalization, resource inadequacies, etc. don’t play a tremendous roll in drug/alcohol use. As if people wake up and think, “Today, I’m going to become an addict.”

Earlier this year, I served on a jury trial about a woman who had become addicted to prescription drugs and the doctor who had been treating her with these drugs for thirteen years. The woman OD’d and died. Half of the jurors in the case blamed the woman completely, and did not hold in any way responsible the doctor who had been enabling her habit in spite of his knowledge of her drug-seeking behaviors. I have never gotten such insight into people’s feelings about addicts as I did in that jury deliberation room.

The United States has a drug problem, one that spins out into lots of other areas (unemployment, mass incarceration, etc). Our country is in the midst of a heroin epidemic with its use increasing 63% in the last eleven years, but this isn’t what people want to talk about. Because at the heart of all addiction conversation is usually a finger-pointing blame that an addict “did this to herself.”

Addiction is a complicated thing, and there is no easy answer. But there is no doubt in my mind that if we treated it more as a mental illness, if we looked at addiction as a disease and not as a weakness, we would make more strides toward solving it.

Six books dealing with addiction/recovery:

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Ellen Hopkin’s Crank: In Crank, Ellen Hopkins chronicles the turbulent and often disturbing relationship between Kristina, a character based on her own daughter, and the “monster,” the highly addictive drug crystal meth, or “crank.”

Nic Sheff’s Tweak: Nic Sheff was drunk for the first time at age eleven. In the years that followed, he would regularly smoke pot, do cocaine and Ecstasy, and develop addictions to crystal meth and heroin. In a voice that is raw and honest, Nic spares no detail in telling us the compelling, heartbreaking, and true story of his relapse and the road to recovery.

Amy Reed’s Clean: Olivia, Kelly, Christopher, Jason, and Eva have one thing in common: They’re addicts. Addicts who have hit rock bottom and been stuck together in rehab to face their problems, face sobriety, and face themselves.

Kelly Fiore’s Thicker Than Water: Cyrus wasn’t always the drug-addled monster he’d become. He was a successful athlete, but when an injury forced him off the soccer field and onto pain medication, his life became a blur of anger, addiction, and violence. All CeCe could do was stand by and watch, until she realized one effective way to take away her brother’s drugs while earning the money she needed for college: selling the pills.

Jacqueline Woodson’s Beneath A Meth Moon: Hurricane Katrina took her mother and granmother. And even though Laurel Daneau has moves on to a new life—one that includes a new best friend, a spot on the cheerleading squad, and dating the co-captain of the football team—she can’t get past the pain of that loss. Then her new boyfriend introduces her to meth, and Laurel is instantly seduced by its spell, the way it erases, even if only temporarily, her memories.

Christa Desir’s Other Broken Things: Nat’s not an alcoholic. She doesn’t have a problem. Everybody parties, everybody does stupid things, like get in their car when they can barely see. Still, with six months of court-ordered AA meetings required, her days of vodka-filled water bottles are over.

Meet Christa Desir:

Christa Desir is a YA author and rape victim advocate. Her YA novels, Fault Line and Bleed Like Me, are both honest and gutwrenching explorations of teens grappling with real world issues like rape (Fault Line) and cutting (Bleed Like Me). In January 2016 her next book, Other Broken Things, releases and it explores addiction in the life of a female boxer. I recently read a copy of Other Broken Things on Edelweiss and it has an engagingly authentic teen voice and I liked the way it honestly dealt with and talked about the topic of addiction. Our teen reviewer Lexi says, “I think every teen should read this book. Every kid who feels broken. Every girl who feels like they can’t make it. Every boy who feels like giving up. Every and any person who feels like they are the only ones broken, because they’re not. This book is so painfully honest that it hurts to read at points. But it’s so worth it.”

About Other Broken Things:

Nat’s not an alcoholic. She doesn’t have a problem. Everybody parties, everybody does stupid things, like get in their car when they can barely see. Still, with six months of court-ordered AA meetings required, her days of vodka-filled water bottles are over.

Unfortunately her old friends want the party girl or nothing. Even her up-for-anything ex seems more interested in rehashing the past than actually helping Nat.

But then a recovering alcoholic named Joe inserts himself into Nat’s life and things start looking up. Joe is funny, smart, and calls her out in a way no one ever has.

He’s also older. A lot older.

Nat’s connection to Joe is overwhelming but so are her attempts to fit back into her old world, all while battling the constant urge to crack a bottle and blur that one thing she’s been desperate to forget.

Now in order to make a different kind of life, Natalie must pull together her broken parts and learn to fight for herself.

Simon Pulse, 2016

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