A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this is a very mature book: Nic shoots meth and heroin, drinks, smokes crack, and does an assortment of other substances. To support his drug habit, he tries dealing (in the past he's also been a hustler). Nic is honest about the toll drugs are having on his body -- also, he talks about his girlfriend's heroin overdose and saving her life with CPR. There are intense sex scenes in the book, as well as a series of disturbing characters (including an addict whose girlfriend nearly killed him by shooting him in the head, and a drug client who Nic catches in the middle of a bondage sex act).
What's the story?
This gritty autobiography provides an honest look at a young man's relapse into drug use, his attempt at recovery, another relapse, and then another (more successful) rehab. Nic narrates his own story, and provides a blunt look at what he has done to score drugs (from stealing from his younger brother to prostituting himself). He uses flashbacks throughout the book, recalling both to his unorthodox childhood and to the ups and downs of his life as an addict. Ultimately he is able to put the pieces together so he can emerge as a complete adult.
Is it any good?
The writing is both raw and gripping. Readers will certainly get a sense of what it means to be an addict through this honest portrayal. And they will find themselves quickly feeling sorry for and frustrated with an increasingly desperate Nic. It's obvious that he has so much potential, but instead keeps choosing a life filled with drugs, dealing, occasional homelessness, creepy people, medical problems and more. Readers may not always relate to Nic's experiences, but they will be swept up in his seemingly endless cycle of addiction and recovery. And they will root for him to break it. In the end, teens will be touched by Nic's honesty -- and they will be exhausted.
Like Ellen Hopkins' popular Crank, this book demonstrates how addiction, especially addiction to meth amphetamine, is thoroughly destructive, not just to the user but to the family as well. Unlike Crank, though, which was written in verse and easy to read despite its grittiness, Sheff's book is thick and seems much more grounded in the adult world: He is 22, on his own, and has many friends who are much older, including the woman he wants to marry. This is ultimately a story about a young man "learning to stand on his own," but there is very little else that marks it for the young adult market.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about books and movies that provide insight into life as a drug addict. Ask your kids: What other examples can you think of? What is the purpose of these stories -- especially when they are targeted to teens? Do you think they impact kids' choices? How so?