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Book Review: Zoo Station (a memoir)- the story of Christiane F.

And then I had a thought:  I was the one scrounging to get all that money together, so at the very least I should try some of it.  Let’s see if that stuff really is as good as everyone always makes it out to be , with their dreamy expressions and blissed-out looks.  That’s really all I was thinking.  I didn’t realize that over the past few months I’d been subconsciously getting myself ready for H.  I wasn’t aware that I’d fallen into a deep, dark hole, and that the song “Station to Station” had knocked me down and run me over.  No other drug seemed like it could help me get out again, so all of a sudden, the next logical step down my path was obviously heroin.  All I could think about was that I didn’t want those two junkies to walk away and leave me alone again- stuck in this fucking mess I was in.  I told them that I wanted to try some.  Chicken was barely coherent.  But he got really furious.  He said: ” Don’t do that.  You have no idea what you’re doing.  If you do that, then you’ll end up just like me in time flat.  Then you’ll be a zombie, too.”  He knew that we all called him that.
So despite what the newspapers always say, it wasn’t like I’d been victimized by some evil dealer, or seduced by a junkie.  It wasn’t at all the case that I’d been turned into a heroin addict against my will.  I don’t know anyone who’d been forced to shoot up against his will.  Most teenagers get into H all on their own, when they think they’re read for it, like I was.

Over 30 years since it’s original publication as Christiane F., Zoo Station is still as real and gripping as the days it was published, and still as relevant to teens.  While our government is still waging a “war on drugs” with public service announcements aimed at parents about how “denial is a drug” and you “need to learn how to talk to your kids?  Let us show you how”, illicit drug use among teens has not been decreasing- patterns have been changing, and are constantly in flux with marijuana and prescription drugs more popular (http://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/high-school-youth-trends).

Zoo Station tells the story of Christiane, who has all the wrong cards from the start. An abusive dad, moves into bad neighborhoods, constantly fighting for attention and to stay whole, with no one to help. By age 11, she had fallen in with a crowd of older teens who were heavily into the drug scene in Berlin, and quickly goes through hashish (marijuana) and prescription pills to get the highs and lows to balance out the edges in her life, and then gets rapidly hooked on heroin.  She panhandles, steals from strangers and friends alike, then prostitutes herself to find her next score, loosing friends left and right to overdoses, and destroying her relationship with her mother in the process.  Finally, during a trial at which she testifies against a john, Christiane, now in her late teens, is approached by Kai Hermann and Horst Rieck, who get her story on tape, and make Zoo Station.  It is not for the faint of heart, as there is extremely graphic details about drug use and sex, but would definitely be appropriate for older teens and nonfiction collections, and teens who want to read about such deep issues will eat it up.  I could definitely see this being paired in a biography/fiction assignment without any problem, such as with Ellen Hopkins’ Crank series, Walter Dean Myers’ Dope Sick, or Melvin Burgess’ Smack.

I really got into the book, and into Christiane’s story.  It did take a bit, because I knew the premise and kept waiting for something to happen, and the beginning of the book goes on about her childhood on the farm, and the beginnings of her move to West Berlin and how she started on the path to not fitting in anywhere.  But it started picking up speed rather quickly when she started running around with Kessi (a nickname that means someone who is brash and talks back), and then it’s all down hill from there.  She’s completely innocent but wants to fit in with the crowd, then starts marijuana and then heavier prescription pills, then finally heroin.  It’s not until her addiction is full-fledged, and she and her boyfriend Detlef can’t support their habits on his johns alone that she starts in on the sex trade, and then she’s tentative.  Rapidly, however, she goes deeper, and all along, Christiane is quite honest about how she wants to be clean.  
And she does try, throughout the book.  It’s not glorified in any way, either; all the symptoms and stages are there- the sweats, the tweaks, the itches, the nausea, everything in detail about what she goes through during her withdrawals and detoxification.  She quits, and then starts back up again; she quits, detoxes somehow, and then when she gets back into her old life is pulled back into the thrall of the drug.  She even seeks rehab in a variety of places- but West Berlin isn’t equipped with the resources or the education to handle the influx or Christiane’s youth.
There is some hope, and at the end Christiane seems to be on her way to some recovery- and in the foreward it does say that she’s still living somewhere in Berlin, avoiding the celebrity that has come with her book. Christiane F. was made into a movie in 1981, with David Bowie providing music for the soundtrack, and the book is still extremely popular in Berlin.
Christiane’s voice rings through the book- it’s not polished, and doesn’t need to be.  Unlike Go Ask Alice, it’s a true voice of someone who has voluntarily gone down into the hole of drugs, and it’s an important story that needs to be out there.  Teens are still dealing with these issues today, and if just one can learn from what Christiane went through, then that’s important.
This teen biography is recommended; powerful and real it is an important look at addiction in the life of teens.  For more information on teens and addiction, check out our previous summary of the 2010 Wild Child Conference on teens and addiction:

Wild Child Conference 2011: The Power of Presence
Wild Child Conference 2011: Drug use update
Wild Child Conference 2011: Teens and Sexual Addiction

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