Amy Reed, 2011. I’m a sucker for a good teen rehab book (see also Last Night I Sang to the Monster), and this one delivers. It’s narrated by five addicts in alternating sections, and each teen’s first few lines say worlds about their personalities and baggage:

Kelly: “My skin looks disgusting. Seriously, it’s practically green. I have big gray bags under my eyes, my hair is all thin and frizzy, and I’m erupting all over the place with giant greasy zits.”

Olivia: “Did I pack my AP Chemistry book? I can’t remember if I packed it.”

Eva: “This place is a body. The walls are its bones or its skin, or both – an exoskeleton, like a crab has.”

Christopher: “Everyone’s looking at me weird. They probably just had a secret meeting where they voted on how lame they think I am, and the verdict was ‘very lame.'”

Jason: “Fuck you fuck you fuck you FUCK YOU. If I don’t get a cigarette soon, I’m going to fucking kill somebody.”

So we have superficial, uptight, dramatic, paranoid, and angry – a veritable Breakfast Club of addicts, as Christopher points out early in the novel – and yet the characters are more complex than that. Kelly’s focus on her appearance hides a secret fear that boys only like her for what she’ll do in the dark. Jason’s anger helps him resist feeling guilty about when his little sister fell down the stairs on his watch. Christopher’s paranoia is related to more than his meth addiction – it’s about the things he had to do to get the meth, and how he felt when he realized he was starting to like it. Eva is recovering from the death of her mother. Only Olivia never develops beyond the stereotype of the too-perfect girl, pressured to get straight As and look like a Barbie, so it’s fitting that it is she who relapses in the end.

The plot is that of a typical rehab story, with the kids revealing more and more to each other, putting up emotional walls and then knocking them down thanks to one another and a Tough Counselor with a Heart of Gold. But as I’ve said several times before, there’s nothing wrong with reusing a plot if you can make it fresh and compelling, and Reed can. ¬†Highly recommended.

This entry was posted in 2011, Amy Reed, fat, gay male, problem novel, queer protagonist, realistic, sexual violence. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Clean

  1. Angie says:

    I just read this book last week. I loved the alternating characters and the snippets from their personal essays. I didn’t relate to Eva at all though, so I didn’t like reading from her point-of-view. And poor Christopher! I just wanted to hug him and hand him a copy of “It Gets Better”. I would definitely recommend this book!

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