Beneath a Meth Moon by Jacqueline Woodson. Nancy Paulsen Books, 2012 (Currently Available)
Genre: Contemporary Realistic Fiction
Face Value: This is a classy cover. Nothing about it either glamorizes drugs, sensationalizes drug addicts or resorts to scare tactics. No faces. Bleak, textured color. White powder hovers around the second “o” in moon, but it’s not exactly obvious right away. This book has both street cred and librarian cred. Nicely done.
Does it Break the Slate? It does. Beneath a Meth Moon breaks the slate because there just aren’t that many books out there that talk about nice kids who end up addicted and start to find their way back. Not in a real way, in a way that balances gritty realism with just enough hopeful potential. Not in a way that makes you care deeply about our heroine without ever forgetting the depth and danger of her addiction. It’s heartbreaking. But it’s also Slatebreaking because there are a whole lot of young women out there who need narratives like this.
Who would we give it to? I read this book because Jacqueline Woodson is one of my all time favorite authors. If she wrote it, I know it’s going to be good. But I think there’s a huge market for this kind of books. Because Woodson so carefully balances despair and hope, and because nothing in the writing feels even remotely inauthentic, I think that this book will appeal to young who are, have been, or have been impacted by meth addicts. And I think this book could do a whole lot more than a lot of existing anti-drug programs when it comes to convincing you that this is a drug to stay away from without demonizing those who are addicted.
Review: Laurel’s been through a lot. Since her mother and grandmother died in Hurricane Katrina, she and her father and brother have kept it together, but just barely. They move away, hoping to get a fresh start – Laurel makes the cheerleading squad and starts dating a
football basketball player. But then she starts doing meth and things go downhill fast. From Laurel’s remembrances, on the shaky road to recovery, we get an intimate look at just how hard it is to get away from “the moon.”
It’s a first person narrative. It would have to be, really, because it’s a lot harder to tap into empathy when we’re looking at the situation from the outside. We get right inside Laurel’s head, and even as horrifying as her drugged out state might be, we empathize. Passages like this one make me care about her as if she were someone I loved in my own life.
I closed my hand tight around the bag and looked out over the land. Galilee was flat and cold. Real different from Pass Christian. When I was still living with Daddy and my brother, I’d put Vaseline on me and Jesse Jr.’s lips every morning, to keep them from chapping and bleeding. Now my own lips were too often cracking and bloodied. The moon soothed them though. Soothed me. I tried not to wonder if Daddy was remembering about the Vaeline. Tried not to think about Jesse Jr.’s lips cracking in this cold. My hands shook as I put another little bit of it in my mouth, felt the burning. Then the light. I smiled because Galilee wasn’t ugly and flat and cold anymore. It was somebody’s promised land.
Woodson has a way with language that grips you in right away. Even as hard as it can be to read about, her words are gorgeous. Simple language too – this slim book isn’t going to intimidate a non-reader and it doesn’t talk down to anybody.
He pulled three new dollar bills from his wallet and handed them to me. My hand was shaking as I took the money.
My sister said, “you can’t save that girl, Moses. You don’t have magic powers.” And you know what? I bet she’s right. I bet you gonna head right over to wherever it is you go and get high. I bet you gonna spend the rest of the spring sitting in front of this closed up building, growing more and more invisible to people.
Then what? I said.
Then you die, my lovely. He said it matter-of-fact, like it was the most obvious thing in the world. Then somebody’s gonna tell your daddy about the queer kid over in Donnersville who can paint a memory on a wall – just pay him for the painting, and the county will find him a wall. The county’s happy to fill up empty walls with meth angels. Part of their anti-drug thing.
This character, Moses, who paints memorials on city walls for kids who died of drug overdoses makes a real impression, both on Laurel and on the reader. His hand in helping her survive speaks to the power of individual human beings to make huge impacts in others’ lives. I loved him instantly, even though we don’t see much of him. I hope Woodson writes him his own story one of these days.
Ultimately, this is a story about recovery and how we get there. Like Laurel’s friend Kaylee tells her, “write an elegy to the past…and move on.” Which is such a beautiful idea, isn’t it? For so many things. Because at a certain point in time, that’s all you can do. Find a way to leave your past behind you. Fix things as best as you can and move forward with your life.
Oftentimes we define “Slatebreaking” on this blog in big and bold ways, a character who makes a huge impression, fights against oppression and stands up for herself against the patriarchy. And we love those things. But there are quieter ways to be a Slatebreaker, and subtler ways to make an impact. Laurel has a huge battle to fight and not an easy one. Part of what she’s fighting is herself, her addiction, the life history that got her to rock bottom. Getting past all that – that can be as insurmountable as the Hunger Games. And as a book that could have a hand in helping kids get out of their own rock bottoms? I can hardly think of a more Slatebreaking act.
Reviewed from Library Copy.