Reviewed by Wendy Lipke
The reader of this latest book by Kathleen Glasgow is told that more than twenty million people in the United States struggle with substance abuse each year…that statistic begins with users at age twelve…and that’s only what has been documented (379).
The author who, in her first book Girl in Pieces, shared some of her own personal feelings as she struggled with anxiety and depression has again touched on a topic which needs to be brought out into the light. In her latest book, she highlights the notion that addiction is a disease and should be treated as such.
She has chosen to tell the story from the point of view of the sixteen-year-old sister of Joey who has succumbed to drugs. Her purpose here is to highlight the collateral damage within the immediate family and beyond. There are many who watch from the outside feeling helpless, unable to make an impact, such as friends, schools, and communities. In this powerful story, the author considers all these people rather than concentrate exclusively on the addict.
Emory (Emmy) is the youngest of three siblings in a town which her family created through their ownership of the mill. This now lies in ruins and her mother must decide what to do with the land adding another moral dilemma to the story. Both parents have demanding professional jobs which take up most of their time. Their first daughter, Maddie, was beautiful and confident and sailed through her education causing barely a ripple. Joey the only son struggled. His younger sister often did his homework for him to help him cope. He could not overcome his feelings of worthlessness.
While supporting her brother, Emmy has her own problems of anxiety, feeling different from others and often feeling invisible, inside, and outside of the family as she says, ‘Sometimes I feel like I don’t exist in this house because I’m not beautiful and loud, like Maddie, or a problem, like Joey, I’m just me’ (12). When Joey comes home from rehab, Emmy is assigned his shadow by their mother who feels completely out of her depth with the situation.
The story highlights the lack of understanding and sometimes empathy between one generation and the next. Within the family, the mother’s solution is to lay down rules. The father leaves the rearing of the children to the mother as he allows his work to take over his life. Although this story is set in America, it could be painting a picture of family life in any first world country where both parents need or want to work, leaving the children to struggle with their problems on their own. Neither generation seem to understand the other or the irony of their actions. Emmy sees this when she says, ‘Parents don’t make any sense. My dad works to save people, but he can’t even stop smoking. My parents send Joey to rehab, but my mother can’t sleep without a pill’ (42).
Because the story is about teenagers, the reader gets a view into education, American style. Some who have been teaching for many years find it hard to relate to the younger generation. When the students complain about the set literature list, their teacher complains in the staff room, ‘It was like a riot… They don’t want to read anything of substance…These are great books…Reading isn’t supposed to be easy…School isn’t supposed to be easy. You just do what you’re told and learn’ (142). Yet the story also reveals educators who can bridge the generation gap and are sadly affected by those students who, through various circumstances, do not reach adulthood.
Apart from the storyline, which is confronting and very personal but needs to be told, I noted that the whole novel reflected the world of the younger generation. At the beginning of the book, I was conscious of very short chapters and many of the chapters included online posts where students shared their thoughts and ideas hoping for validation from others because it never really happens unless you post it somewhere.
Although published for young adults, I’m sure that all readers of this story about substance abuse, will gain a greater awareness of this illness which destroys lives before they have a chance to develop their potential. Change cannot happen without awareness of the problem. This book has begun that process and allows those from different generations an opportunity to reassess their own actions when dealing with different family members.
I found this to be a powerful, confronting but educational insight into the world in which we find ourselves at this time in history.
You’d Be Home Now
by Kathleen Glasgow