Mickey and Carolina enter their senior year as star players on their high school’s softball team, but a bad accident on an icy patch of road threatens their dreams. Carolina walks away with a busted arm and Mickey ends up with 3 screws holding her hip in place and physical therapy to learn how to walk properly again. Mickey is determined to be back to “normal” by the time the season starts, but quickly realizes that she has become dependent on the OxyContin she was prescribed after her surgery to get where she needs to be. When there is no money left for pills she turns to heroin, and we can all imagine where it goes from there...
I suppose Heroine is the current Go Ask Alice, or, if you are like me and grew up in France or Germany, Christiane F. And it’s definitely a very current work of fiction, its theme being the dangers of opioids, and the wide scale effects the opioid crisis has in the entire population, star athletes included. It’s also a compulsive read, you can’t put it down, even when you really want to throw it against a wall.
The story is predictable in the sense that it’s about drugs, and also because the first chapter is an overdose scene, so you basically know that it’s a primer for what the rest of the story is going to lead you to. It’s just a bit... Light? The subject matter is dark, but the story itself is patchy in places where it should be held together in my opinion. Maybe light isn’t the right word and patchy is.
The main thing that bothered me through the entire novel was that no one bothered to ask Mickey if she’s using drugs outright, but everyone suspects she does... Even her best friend doesn’t even try. If the town has been plagued by young people overdosing then why doesn’t anyone who actually cares about her give a shit? Having been very much in similar situations with similar people on different occasions, this is just not believable. As all of the story is narrated from Mickey’s perspective it’s hard to get a clear overview of whether no one cares or no one dares, and the whole friends drifting apart thing is just glossed over. Weird. The drug spiral happens very fast (over the space of a few months between the accident during the winter and the last softball game of the season, so we are talking 5 months tops), it just feels weird that everyone distances themselves from Mickey without even really trying.
The other issue for me is that the character of Mickey falls flat. There isn’t really anything that makes you want to root for her, and that’s without all of the character traits addiction tends to add to a personality (cheating, lying, withdrawing etc). She comes across as selfish and dishonest, and also entitled. The whole adoption theme in the story felt like it was added as an extra layer to help prove her spiraling addiction was legit, but it felt a bit over the top. And slightly stereotypical: the girls from the broken homes turn to drugs (Mickey, Josie), while the ones with the strong familial background are OK (Carolina).
The book also just feels clinical. I know that this is most likely as Mickey is the narrator and narrates her descent into drug hell, but it mainly causes the reader (well me at least) to read it without much emotion or involvement. And don’t get me started on the overdose scene and the aftermath either...
Heroine does however provide a good overview on how the opioid crisis is hitting everyone, how addiction breaks everything apart. And it’s well-written with a good story line. I think maybe that as I have had such a personal relationship with addiction and with addicts there were elements that were missing, and I just wanted something to be able to hold on to, rather than coast on by like a bored spectator.
(This book does come with a necessary trigger warning as there are in-depth descriptions of drug taking, needle-usage, withdrawal, and all the crap that comes with addiction. It could be hard to read if you have been there, or have a loved one who is there, or who has been there).