The American Opioid Crisis in YA Literature
For the past couple of years, national, state and local communities in the United States have been trying to figure out how to deal with the growing opioid crisis. In the city of Mount Vernon, Ohio, where I currently work, I went to a series of training sessions last year that discussed this growing issue. This past year, there was also a state wide day of dialogue about the opioid crisis and public libraries, which some of my peers attended. It has struck me, however, that this topic hasn’t come up as much as it feels like it should given current statistics in YA literature. Until now.
Some Beginning Resources RE The American Opioid Epidemic/Crisis
I’ve recently read two forthcoming books which include or directly address the current opioid crisis in not just the United States, but specifically in the state of Ohio. Ohio is current ranked third in terms of states struggling with the impact crisis. Although there are often times when a state wants to be so highly ranked, this is sadly not one of those times. The opioid crisis is having a very real impact on Ohio citizens. I know teens who have watched their parents overdose and been forced to call 911, I know teens who currently have parents serving in jail, and I know teens that are struggling to eat because of poverty who are eating even less because their parents are using whatever little income they have to buy drugs. I don’t know a lot of teens who are doing drugs themselves, though I know that they exist, in part because they don’t appear to be coming into our libraries.
Heroine by Ohio resident Mindy McGinnis is a realistic look at how one very dedicated, athletic teen with a promising future loses it all because of her slow descent into opioid addiction. In Heroine, Mickey’s use begins as many others has, because she is prescribed pain killers after a devastating accident. It is believed that a lot of our current opioid crisis began because doctors were over prescribing painkillers. In Heroine, Mickey is in a devastating car accident that causes very real trauma to her body and painkillers are prescribed to help control the pain while healing. In part because Mickey tries to rush her healing and get back on the field, her painkiller use becomes amplified. Soon, like many addicts, MC is trying to find ways to get drugs because she can no longer get them through her doctor. Mickey finds herself a supplier and begins hanging out with other addicts as her life spirals out of control.
With Heroine, McGinnis provides a very realistic look at how addiction works and how even the most successful of us can become caught in its throes. Each decision leads to the next and before our main character knows it, everything about who they are and how they function in the world changes. It’s a hard but necessary read for a world trying to understand what addiction is like. Heroine ends on a realistic but hopeful note, not glossing over the fact that addiction is a lifelong issue but that with the right tools and support, you can put your life back onto a positive track.
What You Hide by Natalie D. Richards is not about addiction, but it takes place in a public library and it touches on how addiction is effecting libraries. Richards is not only an author, but she is an Ohioan who works during the day in an Ohio public library. I know Natalie and have visited her library (it’s very nice!) and am not surprised to find that she is contemplating the current effect that the opioid crisis is having on public libraries in Ohio. We all are. Most public libraries are making decisions based on the opioid crisis, whether it be trying to determine whether or not staff should be trained in administering Narcan or whether or not to keep the bathroom doors locked. Some libraries have put in needle disposal bins to help protect patrons and staff from loose needles. Some libraries are buying all hardwood furniture so that needles can’t be shoved down upholstered cracks where patrons or staff can be stuck by them. From staff training to resources to programming to policies and procedures, the opioid crisis is having a very definite effect on public libraries in Ohio and nationwide.
What You Hide is the story of a homeless teenager named Mallory who hides out in the library after closing for a safe place to stay. She has left home because her stepfather Charlie is psychologically abusive and she is worried about the growing threats of physical violence. At the library, she meets Spencer, who is volunteering at the library to fulfill a community service obligation. Early on in the book, a dead body is found in the library and it is believed that the young woman has died of an overdose. At several points in the book, as Mallory seeks to find a way to solve her problem, as Spencer tries to figure out who he is and who he wants to be, and as they both try to determine the origin of the weird goings on in the library, there are some very realistic discussions about addiction and the current opioid crisis.
If you know anything about the process of publishing, it can take a long time for a book to be written and then published. Books are often announced more than a year before publication date. So even as the crisis has been discussed and building, and as policy makers at all levels are trying to figure out how to address the issues, it has taken a while for the issue to be discussed and reflected in YA literature because of this slow publishing turnaround. There are plenty of YA literature titles that discuss addiction and substance abuse in general, though not nearly enough, but there are few that touch on this current opioid epidemic in particular. I was grateful as an Ohioan, as a public librarian, and as a teen librarian to read these titles. I thought that they both did a good job of talking about the issues, raising awareness, and helping us to better understand the current crisis in our world. They are very much needed in the world of contemporary YA literature. Our teens are dealing with these issues, our teen literature should be as well.
About Heroine by Mindy McGinnis
Three screws in her hip.
Two months until spring training.
One answer to all her problems.
Mickey Catalan is no stranger to the opioid epidemic in her small town. There are obituaries of classmates who “died suddenly” and stories of overdoses in gas station bathrooms—but none of that is her. No, Mickey is a star softball catcher—one part of a dynamic duo with her best friend and pitcher Carolina—about to start her senior season with hopes of college recruitment. Until a car accident shatters that plan, along with her hip and Carolina’s arm.
Now Mickey is hurting. She can barely walk, much less crouch behind the plate. Yet a little white pill can make it better. After all, it is doctor prescribed. But when the prescription runs out, Mickey turns to an elderly woman who pushes hot meatloaf and a baggie full of oxy across the kitchen counter. It’s there Mickey makes new friends—other athletes in pain, others with just time to kill—and finds peaceful acceptance, a place where she can find words more easily than she ever has before. But as the pressure to be Mickey Catalan heightens, her desire for pills becomes less about pain and more about want, something that could send her spiraling out of control.
Coming out March 2019 by Katherine Tegen Books
About What You Hide by Natalie D. Richards
A new pulse-pounding romantic thriller from the author of We All Fall Down and Six Months Later
Spencer volunteers at the library. Sure, it’s community service, but he likes his work. Especially if it means getting to see Mallory.
Mallory spends a lot of time keeping her head down. When you’re sixteen and homeless, nothing matters more than being anonymous. But Spencer’s charm makes her want to be noticed.
Then sinister things start happening at the library. Mysterious symbols and terrifying warnings begin to appear, and management grows suspicious. Spencer and Mallory know a homeless teenager makes an easy target, and if they can’t find the real culprit soon, they could lose more than just their safe haven…
Coming December 2018 by Sourcefire Books
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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