at The Fix:
The YA addiction novel has become its own mini-industry. Which ones offer insight instead of hawking clichés? Below you’ll find the best addiction-related YA and middle-grade fiction I could find.
I just realized that I left off Because of Winn-Dixie literally by mistake! It really should have ranked around the middle of the list. This is the entry I should have included:
A grade-school dog fable set in rural Florida. India’s absent mother is an alcoholic, and the book offers wise and generous portrayals of people in recovery and other hard-knock types. India’s neighbor has a bottle tree, which keeps away the ghosts “of all the things I done wrong,” and India poignantly wonders “if my mama, wherever she was, had a tree full of bottles; and I wondered if I was a ghost to her, the same way she sometimes seemed like a ghost to me.” Marred by disingenuous Confederate romanticism but in other respects a sweet and good book.
Oh, and a couple notes on novels I left off on purpose: I was tempted to include You Never Knew Her As I Did!, Mollie Hunter’s historical novel about Mary, Queen of Scots, because the kid narrator who drowns his guilt in booze was maybe a formative influence for me. But the book is out of circulation in DC, and I restricted this list to books I could find in the DC library system. You Never Knew Her is great–you should find it–but also a good reminder that kids learn from books what we’re willing to learn, not what the book wanted to tell us. One girl’s cautionary tale is another girl’s aspiration.
A Hero Ain’t Nothin’ But a Sandwich is a fascinating read for an adult–there’s even some “black silent majority” rhetoric!–with its mix of insights and what have by now become addiction-novel cliches. I left it off this list largely because the slang and to some extent the social attitudes are so dated that only an unusually open-minded and unironic teen would get anything from it: “I dug the scene and didden have to be studyin it from a jive book,” you know?
I left off Robert Cormier’s grim ‘n’ gritty We All Fall Down (another formative “guilt and self-loathing are my favorite mixers” book from my misspent youth) for similar reasons. We All has some good descriptions of the anticipatory, unfulfilled promises of drinking, and the way it distorts time; I also thought the romance was pretty touching. (So many YA books about addiction are about girls falling for the drunk guys who hurt them, and drunk guys falling for the girls they hurt! A sort of reverse sublimation of repentance into romance. The better entries in that category didn’t allow the romance to blossom, because you don’t make amends by unzipping.)
I left off Go Ask Alice because you literally could not pay me to revisit fake Alice and her fake Tampax.