Monday, July 16, 2012

Clean & Crazy

by Amy Reed
Simon Pulse | Clean - July 2011 / Crazy - June 2012

Amy Reed has followed up her first novel, Beautiful, published in October 2009, with Clean and Crazy. Clean follows five main characters mostly through the first-person accounts of two of them. All five are in a rehab center in Seattle for different reasons - alcohol, meth addiction, diet pills, and more. All are teens. All are troubled in ways that go beyond their substance abuse.

The prose is stark and the epistolary moments where Reed uses snippets of reflection papers written by the characters to fill in information work well. The characters seem like reliable sources even in the throes of their struggles. Reed tells it like it is and often evokes harsh imagery and language to hit home the pain of recovery, but at the same time, she rounds out her characters' edges to make them likable and appropriate for a younger reader. (Kelly recognizes her parents are pretty great and Jason consistently tries to be a better person, for instance.)

At first glance, it might be assumed Crazy is a retelling of Clean set somewhere with teens struggling with mental health, but it is actually quite different. Connor met Izzy at camp, where they were both counselors. He lives on a small island off Washington and she in Seattle. They keep in touch via email during their senior year in high school. The book is written entirely in those emails back and forth between them and Connor "watches" from afar as Izzy struggles with the sharp up and downs of bi-polar disorder. Connor, who has a psychiatrist for a mother, begs Izzy to let him help her, but isn't sure how to best intervene or whether he should.

Both these books are good reads in and of themselves. But they also lend a non-threatening look into two issues that affect teens today. Young readers who have dealt with these issues first-hand, in their families, or with their friends may appreciate how these characters are portrayed as handling the situations. Those young people who haven't dealt with these issues will come away with a clearer sense of what it means to be trying to get clean or dealing with a sort of crazy. Either way, it's a win.

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