Saturday, February 25, 2017

What we're reading: A haunting tale of addiction

I just finished reading Beneath A Meth Moon, by much-awarded author Jacqueline Woodson.

The book is about Laurel, age 15, who has just suffered a devastating tragedy. Hurricane warnings in Pass Christian, Mississippi, cause Laurel's father, a fisherman, to decide to evacuate his family; but Laurel's grandmother refuses to leave her home, and Laurel's mother decides that she must stay with her. Both of them reassure the rest of the family that if things start looking bad, they will leave the house and head for the town's Walmart store, so Laurel's dad reluctantly packs up her and her little brother and heads out to his sister's house, far inland. They speak on the phone with those they left behind a few times, and then the connection is lost as the hurricane moves in. Days later, when residents are finally allowed back into the towns damaged by the hurricane, Laurel and her family return to their home town to discover that their house has disappeared completely, and that the Walmart has been completely leveled.

Eventually, Laurel's dad finds employment further north in a small town in Iowa, and takes Laurel and her brother to make a brand-new start. Although Laurel hasn't recovered from her losses, she does manage to make a friend and even join the cheer squad at her new high school; but then T-Boom, one of the football players, takes a flattering interest in her, and her life changes at that moment. T-Boom asks her if she likes to party; she isn't quite clear on what he means by that, but says yes, and T-Boom offers her a little taste of something that will make her feel good. Indeed, it makes her feel so good--and relieves her lingering pain to such an extent--that soon it is all Laurel can think about. From that point on, Laurel's life is in a descending spiral of meth addiction (she calls the drug "the moon"), with no end in sight.

Although I expected this book to be dark (it is about a 15-year-old girl who is addicted to meth), I didn't entirely expect the lyrical (and disjointed) way it is told. The book gives the reader an inside view of the experience, from top to rock bottom, and although it's told from Laurel's viewpoint, also paints a picture of how others in her life are affected. This book could have been a standard cautionary tale--a scare tactic--but instead Woodson's language sparely and beautifully carries you through one girl's experience and makes it feel both personal and universal.

It's a short book (170 pages) but a powerful one, with a message that's there but that doesn't hit you over the head. It is emotional, realistic, but also hopeful. And the way Woodson deals with the contents, I wouldn't hesitate to hand this book to a middle-schooler to read, even though much older teens would appreciate it as well.

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