LIFELINE – YA novel recommendation

Title: Lifeline

Author: Abbey Lee Nash

 Publisher: Tiny Fox Press, 2018

Ages: 14-18

Themes: addiction, drugs, rehabilitation, substance abuse, recovery center

Genre: contemporary fiction

Opening:

Sudden Death.

First game of the season and we are heading into overtime against our arch rivals, The Wolves. Four minutes left. First goal wins.

Four minutes to prove to coach Wilson and smug Schaffer that they made the right choice by finally naming me across captain this year.

Synopsis:

Popular high school senior Eli Ross has the perfect life. He’s captain of the lacrosse team at LionsHeart Academy, and he’s dating Savannah, the hottest, most popular girl at school. But that life comes crashing down when he overdoses at a party and is sent to LakeShore Recovery Center, an inpatient substance abuse treatment program where he’ll spend the next twenty-eight days.

It’s there that Eli meets Libby, the sharp-edged artist, whose freshly tattooed scars mirror the emotional scars Eli tries his best to ignore. Eli soon learns that if he’s to have any chance at a future, he’ll first have to confront his past. (GR)

Why I like this book:

Addiction is a topic I about which I have seen in several YA novels in the last decade, and Nash’s execution is excellent and not the least cliché. It is a sadly pertinent narrative for so many teens, whether from an upscale milieu like our protagonist here, or from a ghetto, and this novel makes a great addition to the library shelves on this subject. Substance abuse is no respecter of class. I actually like the fact that Nash chose to make Eli an all-American teen and then have some contrast with some of the other characters in the rehab center (though it is clearly a center for those with means.)

As with so many addicts, Eli, despite his popularity,  feels very alone and isolated. At its heart, this book is about relationships: relationship to trauma, to drugs, to peers, to authority figures, and to family.

Nash moves the action very early on in the novel to the 28-day detox program at LakeShore Recovery Center. Here she focuses in a very earthy yet readable way on the hard work and choices of rehab any addict must face. Here Eli’s new relationships, Red, Libby, Will and Mo will all play important roles in his process, just as previous relationships played some role in his “fall”. Nash realistically portrays the insidious nature of addiction, and that not all who enter rehab as we sadly know, succeed. 

The portrayal of teen addiction isn’t watered or dumbed down and yet Nash maintains an undercurrent of hope throughout the novel. For a young adult novel, there is an adult character who plays an unusually prominent role, the counselor, Richard “Fish” Fisher. This feels warranted and valuable in the development of Eli’s story. Fish’s counselor/patient relationship with Eli is central to choices Eli will make, and offers a realistic insight into teen rehab and the need to trust and be helped by others. The novel traces this four week process but at not point does the reader get the impression that this is all that is necessary or that there isn’t still a long road ahead for all (including more falls by some.)

I found the book, well-paced, realistic and especially enjoyed Libby’s character and her “romance” with Eli (which I found totally plausible despite rules in pretty much any rehab scenario about not becoming romantically involved whilst in rehab) and the transformation of Eli’s relationship with his stepdad. The family secret which emerges I had already foreseen, but this didn’t make it less important to the backstory and Eli’s trajectory. This is a solid, well written debut novel tackling challenging mental health issues.

Resources:

I was glad to see that the author had included a list of online resources for teens struggling with addiction (and resources for their family members.)

Book Trailer

Don’t miss the interview I did with Abbey Lee Nash.

 

 

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