I never thought I’d see the day where I recommend a book that I did not enjoy or where I absolutely disliked the protagonist but here we go. In Heroine Mindy McGinnis, author of Female of the Species and Not A Drop to Drink has decided to tackle the growing opioid crisis in the US with a brutal, no holds barred account of a teenager who becomes addicted to heroine. It is not a pleasant book to read but I could not put it down.
Mickey Catalan and her best friend Carolina are local softball stars, the talk of their town and no doubt heading to college on scholarships. Until one day, they are involved in a terrible car accident where Mickey’s hip is shattered along with Carolina’s arm. In those first weeks following the accident, both girls need Oxy to help them deal with the pain and get back into training. Why is it then that Mickey travels down a much darker path than Carolina, one that will destroy nearly everyone close to her and end some relationships forever?
Mindy McGinnis starts at the end, so we know in the very first page where this story is going but that didn’t make it any less compelling or devastating.
The only problem is that Mickey is so awful.
I don’t usually like it when people say they don’t like a protagonist, preferring instead to try understand why the author wrote them that way. That didn’t make the book any more enjoyable to read because Mickey is first and foremost an addict and what is there to like in a novel about an addict becoming addicted? I speak from deep personal experience when I say that addicts are selfish, duplicitous, lying, thieving people who will stop at nothing to get their next fix. You’re not meant to like an addict.
Mickey’s downfall is horrendous and messy. There is not really any chance of liking that.
"Realistic, frustrating and terrifying"
So is the book worth reading? Yes. Mindy McGinnis has done such a good job of writing this catastrophically flawed character that she draws the reader right in to the events in a book. I don’t mean simply that I was engaged or riveted, which I was, I mean that I felt emotionally drained and traumatised by the end of the book.
Heroine definitely does a better job of showing the harm of drugs than Christiane F or Go Ask Alice. I haven’t read any more contemporary YA books on substance abuse because, like Heroine, if it is well written it is never going to be an enjoyable or uplifting read. I’ve also gone through that in real life and don’t necessarily want to be reminded of it.
Heroine is realistic, frustrating and terrifying. I give it an excellent four out of five stars and definitely recommend this book for classroom discussions on opioid abuse and addiction.