White Lines

Book review by
Angela Zimmerman, Common Sense Media
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Edgy tale of teen in '80s club scene shows graphic drug use.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Readers can learn about the dangers of drug addiction. They'll also get a sense of the historical tone of New York City in the late 1980s, as well as a general understanding of the city's geography -- the author references many landmarks and describes certain subway routes and streets. Readers can also learn about the importance of coping mechanisms and positive influences.

Positive Messages

The importance of healthy, strong relationships are emphasized. Although Cat doesn't have many close relationships, a supportive and dependable best friend is her sole lifeline during her darkest hours. Readers may be dissuaded from drugs and alcohol, as the dangerous and fleeting rewards of a party-hard lifestyle are exposed.

Positive Role Models & Representations

While many of the characters are vapid and selfish, Cat's best friend Sara is a great role model. She's strong-willed and supportive, anti-drug, and focused on school and her extracurricular activities.


Cat suffered physical abuse at the hand of her mother through most of her childhood, and she recounts various incidents of violence.


There are no explicit accounts of sex, but Cat contemplates sex with various partners, one of whom is a man 15 years her senior. Another teen has sex with an older man she just met.


Lots of strong language, including "f--k," "s--t," "bitch," "hell," "damn," and more. Drug slang is also prevalent throughout.


A few brand names pop up, presumably as a testament to the decade, like Sony, Nerf, and Ray-Ban, and Christal and Herradura tequila are among the liquor brands mentioned.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

This story is all about drug use and addition. A teen girl uses cocaine almost nightly, and her usage is explicitly described, including interactions with dealers, details of ingesting, and candid accounts of the physical manifestations of the drug in her body. The protagonist accidentally snorts heroin and passes out in a bathroom stall. Underage and excessive drinking is a major component to the story, and characters smoke cigarettes as well. A character we don't meet overdoses on Xanax in a suicide attempt. One mother drinks constantly and becomes abusive, and another mother is inferred to have a prescription pill habit.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that White Lines is a coming-of-age novel set in New York City in the late 1980s. It's narrated by deeply troubled teen Cat, who lives alone in Lower Manhattan, barely attends school, and goes out to clubs almost nightly until sunrise. She consistently uses alcohol and drugs, including cocaine, ecstasy, and on one accidental occasion, heroin. Despite having a supportive best friend and sweet high school crush, she fraternizes regularly with drug dealers, teen dropouts, and adults with questionable motives. And her daily self-medicating to mask the pain of an abusive childhood is catching up with her. Fast. Strong language ("f--k," "s--t," "bitch," "hell," "damn," and more) and drug slang are prevalent throughout. A character we don't meet attempts suicide by overdosing on Xanax. One mother drinks constantly and becomes abusive, and another mother is inferred to have a prescription pill habit. Cat recounts various incidents of physical abuse at the hand of her mother.

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What's the story?

After being removed from the home of her abusive and manipulative mother, 17-year-old Cat moves into her own Manhattan apartment, paid for by a wealthy and distant father. Though Cat has few real friends and struggles in school, she's a fixture on the downtown club scene, promoting parties and going out nightly with an exclusive, hard-partying clientele. Her life affords her all the freedoms most teens dream of, but as she sinks deeper into drug addiction amid a fantastical nocturnal world, Cat's high school reality becomes defined by a growing feeling of isolation. Her constant self-medicating with drugs and partying to combat a lifetime of abuse and neglect only heighten her fragility, preventing her from gaining the tools she needs to heal and grow up. She knows she needs help. But can she stop before it's too late?

Is it any good?

Author Jennifer Banash does well with her first-person narration of a lonely and insecure teen girl, creating a character you can't help but feel for. She also paints a vivid picture of New York City, from the lavish wealth of Park Avenue to the singular beat of the downtown club scene. But the pacing of WHITE LINES is off; Cat's inner dialogue becomes deeply repetitive, and far too much time is spent on menial details. For instance, descriptions of characters' hair (the color of, the flow of, the way it flops on a forehead or is brushed from a shoulder) are found on nearly every other page, diluting their effect.

But despite the plodding narrative, Banash has crafted some interesting characters in Cat and the various colorful people who inhabit her circle. Cat's feelings of alienation and loneliness are endearing and relatable; the reader can't help but feel invested in her plight. And so the story becomes more engaging with every chapter leading up to the climactic ending.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the dangers of substance abuse as a means of self-medicating. What are some other ways to cope with the pain of a troubled childhood?

  • How does the author portray 1980s New York City? What are some of the ways she dates the story and sets the tone of the period?

  • Cat's two best friends, Sara and Giovanni, are supportive in very different ways. Describe how their relationships with Cat differ. How does Giovanni's character change throughout the story?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love gritty coming-of-age novels

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