Title: CleanAuthor: Amy Reed
Publisher: Simon and Schuster/Simon Pulse
Release Date: August 9, 2011Pages: 288 pages (hardcover)
How I Got the Book: Simon & Schuster Galley Grab
You’re probably wondering how I ended up here. I’m still wondering the same thing.
Olivia, Kelly, Christopher, Jason, and Eva have one thing in common: They're addicts. Addicts who have hit rock bottom and been stuck together in rehab to face their problems, face sobriety, and face themselves. None of them wants to be there. None of them wants to confront the truths about their pasts. And they certainly don’t want to share their darkest secrets and most desperate fears with a room of strangers. But they'll all have to deal with themselves and one another if they want to learn how to live. Because when you get that high, there's nowhere to go but down, down, down.
Five different teenagers, five different sets of problems, and one adolescent rehab center. They're all here to conquer their demons and beat their various addictions. Kelly, pretty and well-liked, has a cocaine and alcohol addiction and related issues with sex. Homeschooled Christian boy Christopher is outside his small world for the first time while he's in treatment for meth and cocaine addictions. Jason is an alcoholic carrying a lot of guilt for what happened to his family while he was drunk one day. Still reeling from her mother's death and feeling neglected by her father, Eva relies on pills and marijuana to get by. And Olivia has anorexia and a problem with diet pills thanks to pressure to be perfect, especially from her mother.
Through short chapters, revelations during Group, personal essays, and what they tell each other, all five characters become well-developed and their conflicts, feelings, and problems were laid out bare. The real standout to me was Eva, who lacked any ability to associate the her of now and the her of the past, the one that used drugs and smoked marijuana. When she writes about how she ended up in rehab, she writes in third-person rather than first-person like everyone else. Everyone has their own voice and the messages they send are true.
I was surprised at just how quickly I read Clean; just a day and a half after starting it, I was done. We start out with hints of what landed each teen in rehab, acting as lures to keep us going because we want to know more. The short chapters work well with this and the book doesn't have the feeling of dragging on and the writing wastes no time. There's concentration on introspection, how fellow addicts in the rehab affect them, and their own pasts. No long spiels of describing anything unnecessary. If only other books had that kind of focus rather than spending two pages describing a room.
Addictions, whether to drugs or alcohol or another substance, aren't as easy to break as snapping your fingers and saying, "Okay! I'm cured!" People don't always understand that and it has become especially obvious in the time since the death of singer Amy Winehouse by what many suspect to be a drug overdose. As demonstrated at one point in the book, not everyone can get sober. Some of them relapse after leaving or even while still in rehab. It's not just about the substance they're abusing; it's about the deeper issues that led them to use those substances too. That's the big point of the book. Each character has their own reasons that, while they never make the drug and alcohol use okay, make them sympathetic and relatable.
The book even took a moment to touch on through Shirley the privilege these teens don't realize they have because they're white and have money. I'm not supposed to quote ARC copies, but this is just too amazing and true-to-life not to quote: "The only things you have going for you are race and money and the fact that someone cares enough about you to get you help instead of just throwing you out on the street and letting you destroy yourself (Clean, ARC p. 114-115)."
While I loved this book, I still had some issues with it. My expertise on how an addict behaves while going through withdrawal only stretches as far as what I've seen on reality television (not too reliable, huh?) and personal experience from growing up with an alcoholic, but I wasn't seeing very many withdrawal symptoms. Close to the end of the book, Jason's dad calls his daughter a retard and no one calls him out on it; they just mutter their condolences. Being the designated butthole of the book doesn't make it okay for him to say that. Then I wanted to know how the characters did when it was all over. Who stayed sober? Who relapsed? That sort of resolution, as depressing as it has the potential to be for the characters that relapsed, would make Clean feel more complete.
Clean has the potential to be a real tearjerker and for those who grew up with someone who had an addiction, it can be especially familiar and touching. There's no graphic drug use or description of it, in case you're wondering. They talk about using, but don't go into it much because they're not in rehab to talk about how it felt to be on drugs. Even if it makes them uncomfortable, I think people should read this book. And now I want my own copy so I can come back to it and reread it.
What am I reading next?: Uncommon Criminals by Ally Carter