#MHYALit: USING YOUNG ADULT LITERATURE TO COMBAT THE SECRECY OF ADDICTION, a guest post by Heather Smith Meloche
Today we are honored to host another #MHYALit Discussion post, this one about addiction. Author Heather Smith Meloche writes about addiction in her new Putnam release, RIPPLE.
You can read all the #MHYALit posts here or click on the #MHYALit tag.
When I finished writing my novel, Ripple – a contemporary YA about two teens caught up in the ripples of addiction from one generation to the next — and sent it out into the world for publication, I never wanted to be the “face” of it. I wanted the book to stand on the legs I gave it, take its words to whoever needed them, and do the tough promotional work without me. Part of the reason was because I, like many writers, am a private person. Introverted. More comfortable in the confines of my writing study than standing in front of people talking. But the bigger reason I didn’t want to talk publicly about my book was because of secrecy.
I grew up with an alcoholic stepdad, just as he had grown up with his alcoholic father. And I learned, as he had, that telling people about the liquor-induced chaos behind my front door was only going to make me less “normal,” less accepted, casting a pariah-like shadow on me. So I never talked about it, nor did my family. I rarely invited friends over to my house. My best friends knew of what I lived with, but there was a silent pact to never bring it up.
I thought, as my mother and sister most likely did, that being tight-lipped and closed off was an act of self-preservation, but like a kind of domestic Petri dish, my step-dad’s addiction and my destructive symptoms of living with it grew monumentally, overflowing into the healthy areas of my life as my teen years progressed.
The reason my home life got worse was simple: Addiction is built, cultivated, and perpetuated through silence and secrets. It germinates by being hidden and feeds off the simple maxim that if you don’t state the problem, you can’t fix it. Luckily, I became a writer, realizing quickly that YA literature is one of the best, most healing ways of stating the problem.
Recently, I went into a high school and talked to all the Language Arts students about writing and how I became a novelist. As I talked, I stated that I grew up in an alcoholic home. Heads popped up. I mentioned my husband also grew up with an alcoholic mom who was most likely bipolar, though she was always too drunk and drugged on prescription pills to correctly diagnose, and those high schoolers leaned in closer. When I talked about how my husband and I struggled to combat the patterns of addiction in ourselves, those teens looked at me like I had just physically folded inside out.
I mean, who was I to be saying out loud in such a blunt way that I had lived with addiction and struggled with my own? That’s way too embarrassing to bring inside high school walls. It’s mortifying. Uncool. Un-normal. And still, those kids who were engaged when I spoke were focused and locked in because they, heartbreakingly, understood exactly what I was talking about and felt the need to keep talking about it.
Close to 12 percent of children in the United States live with a parent addicted to drugs or alcohol, and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) points out suffering from the emotional stress of living with an addicted parent can lead to irreparable damage socially and emotionally, making these kids more likely to become addicted themselves.* Yet, unlike the affliction of cancer or heart disease, addiction is looked at as an immoral choice made by someone flawed. So community support tends to fall short. The stigma surrounding the mention of addiction is thick, and the isolation felt by those who deal with it is oppressive.
But YA writing brings hope. With YA writers and their editors now able to delve more deeply into tough topics, today’s YA books can tackle the scope of addiction not just in all its gritty reality and tragic circumstances, but also with potentially optimistic outcomes. These stories have the ability to cut through the shame and stigma of talking openly about the issues, and with more discussion, a path is paved for librarians and teachers to more effectively recommend the appropriate book at the appropriate time for each teen reader.
During the promotion of my book, I’ve caught myself telling people my novel “isn’t for everybody” or “it’s really for those who have been through it.” But that’s simply me being the shameful child of an alcoholic — my long-conditioned, knee-jerk reaction to hide the disease. Yet keeping in mind the high social and financial cost of alcoholism and drug abuse affecting everyone, I’ve learned to turn secrets into tools to reach teen readers and get healthy discussions rolling, which, hopefully, can open doors for a forum of understanding and for finding help for those kids who need it.
When their too-adult lives lead them down self-destructive paths, these broken teens find a way to heal in this YA novel perfect for fans of Ellen Hopkins.
With her impossible-to-please grandmother on her back about college and her disapproving step-dad watching her every move, Tessa would do anything to escape the pressure-cooker she calls home. So she finds a shot of much-needed power and confidence by hooking up with boys, even though it means cheating on her boyfriend. But when she’s finally caught red-handed, she’ll do anything she can to cover up what she’s done.
Jack is a prankster who bucks the system every chance he gets—each transgression getting riskier and riskier. He loves the thrill, and each adventure allows a little release because his smug smile and suave demeanor in the face of authority doesn’t make life at home with his mom any less tough. He tries to take care of her, but the truth is he’s powerless in the face of her fragile mental health. So he copes in his own way, by defacing public property and pulling elaborate pranks, though he knows in the end this’ll only screw up his life even more.
As they both try not to let their self-destructive patterns get the best of them, Tessa and Jack gravitate toward one another, discovering the best parts of themselves in the process. An honest portrayal of the urges that drive us and finding the strength to overcome them.
Meet Heather Smith Meloche
Heather Smith Meloche has had the honor of winning the Katherine Paterson Prize and the Writer’s Digest National Competition for her children’s/young adult writing. She lives with her family in Michigan and spends her days sampling a wide variety of chocolate, letting her dogs in and out constantly, and writing and reading as much as she can.
Win a Copy of RIPPLE!
Heather has generously donated 3 copies of RIPPLE to give away, 1 each to 3 lucky winners. You must be a U.S. resident to enter to win. Enter by doing the Rafflecopter thingy below by Saturday, November 12th.
a Rafflecopter giveaway
Filed under: #MHYALit
About Karen Jensen, MLS
Karen Jensen has been a Teen Services Librarian for almost 30 years. She created TLT in 2011 and is the co-editor of The Whole Library Handbook: Teen Services with Heather Booth (ALA Editions, 2014).
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