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Recovery Road



Gritty book about substance abuse is OK for mature teens.

What parents need to know

Educational value

Teens probably will gain insight into how easy it is to develop a substance abuse problem, and how difficult it can be to achieve sobriety.

Positive messages

The horrific consequences of substance abuse are revealed in raw, painful detail – not just for the abusers, but also for their families, their friends, and even strangers.

Positive role models

Maddie learns her lessons the hard way, including the pitfalls of judging others. Her parents are well-intentioned but flawed, and adults who are justifiably skeptical of her chances of success nevertheless try to help her. Several secondary characters who drink and use drugs suffer terribly; they are clearly not role models, but are very effective cautionary tales.


Maddie is assaulted by two men who strip off her pants before being scared off. Several secondary characters die in a horrific car crash; one girl is left paralyzed in a drunken driving accident. Maddie recounts how easily she got into fights and trouble with the law before entering rehab. Some characters mention sexual violence in their pasts. 


Maddie and her boyfriend have sex a few times; the passages are handled tastefully. In party scenes, secondary characters kiss and make out.


Vulgar language includes "bitch," "asshole," "s--t," and more. The cursing tails off as Maddie matures.


A few brand names are mentioned in passing.

Drinking, drugs, & smoking

There’s an abundance of smoking, drinking, and drug use, and lots of peer pressure to smoke pot and drink – all part and parcel of a book about young people and substance abuse. But the drug and alcohol use isn’t glamorized in any way.

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that the main characters are struggling with substance abuse, and there’s a lot of gritty material: language, sexual situations, drug and alcohol use, violent deaths, a near-rape, and more. None of it is either gratuitous or glamorized. In fact, the clear message is that reckless behavior can have devastating consequences – and that it’s never too late to change. Even so, this is a better fit for mature teens.

What's the story?

Sixteen-year-old Maddie is furious, floundering, and in rehab, trying to come to terms with her substance abuse and anger issues. Her life begins to turn around when she meets Stewart, another young patient, at movie night and the two fall in love. Once released, the girl formerly known as Mad Dog Maddie tries to build a better future for herself, hopefully one that will include Stewart. But out of rehab, the two struggle to connect, and Stewart has a harder time staying sober. Maddie tries to focus on her future, working to salvage her grades and cultivate her few friendships -- all while trying to figure out how much she can risk to try to keep Stewart in her life and heart.

Is it any good?


After a harsh start, what emerges is a vivid, authentic story of a girl growing up fast. Maddie starts off as a living nightmare, but by book’s end she’s redeemed as a teenager who is both sympathetic and strong. In her character, teens will recognize an intense distillation of many issues that will resonate: peer pressure, public personas, flirtations, mature love, complex friendships, dangerous choices.

Bristly Maddie sneaks up on you, capturing your loyalty as she learns to engage with life and with other people. The secondary characters are skillfully developed, complex and, for the most part, skirt stereotyping. Teen readers will appreciate author Blake Nelson’s respect for his audience. He is neither pandering nor paternal. This isn’t just a story to scare kids away from substance abuse: It’s a realistic look at the hard work of growing up.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about books and movies about substance abuse. How does this book compare to other takes you've seen on the topic? Do you think these kinds of stories have any impact?

  • What role do media play in teen drinking and drug use? Can you think of movies or television shows where this kind of behavior is glamorized? Parents may want to take a look at Common Sense's tips for discussing alchol in the media to find statistics and get further discussion ideas.

Book details

Author:Blake Nelson
Genre:Coming of Age
Book type:Fiction
Publisher:Scholastic Press
Publication date:March 1, 2011
Number of pages:320

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What parents and kids say

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Kid, 12 years old November 14, 2014

Go down the road and see what you find

This is a book that shows you what it's like to be stuck in a sinkhole with no way out. A.Sexy B.violent C.language or D all of the above.......I pick D. If you want a book that will make you cry more then likely make you rethink a lot of stuff then READ it. -Hoped this helped
What other families should know
Great messages
Teen, 15 years old Written byballetcorbyn May 21, 2011
A great read, it has great morals along with characters
What other families should know
Too much violence
Too much sex
Too much consumerism
Too much drinking/drugs/smoking
Educational value
Great messages
Great role models
Kid, 11 years old April 23, 2011
What other families should know
Too much violence
Too much sex
Too much swearing
Too much drinking/drugs/smoking
Educational value
Great messages
Great role models


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