A Variety of Brains: Books with Characters Dealing with Addiction

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In a not-at-all stunning turn of events, what I thought would be a fairly simple list turned into a monster. A 60+ page Word document – single spaced – kind of monster. Initially, I had this post divided up into different sections, but it was just…. too long.

Instead, this is the first in our new Variety of Brains mini-series. Are you looking for a neurodiverse book? We’ve got it listed for you.

A lot of these may not be good representation. It could even be most of them, but that’s not my call to make. On my last few major lists like this for YA Interrobang, I pulled any books I knew were problematic, but I hesitate to do that with this one, simply because neurodiversity in itself is incredibly diverse. Take, for example, the way that anxiety manifests itself varies from person to person.

Some experiences will feel true to some readers, but those same experiences could be triggering for others. I don’t want to deny anyone the chance to find themselves in the pages. Before picking up any of these books, please look at reviews, ask friends, make sure that what’s in these pages won’t harm you. I can’t tell you what won’t work for you, what will hurt you, and I can’t vet all of these books. Please, please be careful.

cover of before my eyes caroline bockBefore My Eyes by Caroline Bock
Publisher: St. Martin’s Griffin
Release date: February 11 2014
Claire, seventeen, has spent the last few months taking care of her six-year-old sister, Izzy, as their mother lies in a hospital bed recovering from a stroke. Claire believes she has everything under control until she meets Brent online. But when she meets Max, the awkward state senator’s son, her feelings become complicated. Max has been working the worst summer job ever at the beachside Snack Shack. He’s also been popping painkillers. His parents fail to see what’s going on with him. Working alongside Max is Barkley, twenty-one. Lonely and obsessive, Barkley has been hearing a voice in his head. No one realizes that Barkley is suffering from paranoid schizophrenia. Until the voice in his head orders him to take out his gun.

cover of beneath a meth moon jacqueline woodsonBeneath a Meth Moon by Jaqueline Woodson
Publisher: Nancy Paulsen Books
Release date: February 2 2012
Laurel Daneau has moved on to a new life but inside she’s still reeling from the loss of her beloved mother and grandmother after Hurricane Katrina. Laurel’s new life is going well, yet she is haunted by voices and memories from her past. When T-Boom introduces Laurel to meth, she immediately falls under its spell, loving the way it erases, even if only briefly, her past. But as she becomes alienated from her friends and family, she longs to be whole again. With help from an artist named Moses and her friend Kaylee, she’s able to begin to rewrite her story and start to move on from her addiction.

clean amy reed coverClean by Amy Reed
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Release date: July 19 2011
Olivia, Kelly, Christopher, Jason, and Eva have one thing in common: They’re addicts. Addicts who have hit rock bottom and been stuck together in rehab to face their problems, face sobriety, and face themselves. None of them wants to be there. None of them wants to confront the truths about their pasts. But they’ll all have to deal with themselves and one another if they want to learn how to live. Because when you get that high, there’s nowhere to go but down, down, down.

crank ellen hopkins coverCrank by Ellen Hopkins
Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry
Release date: October 1 2004
Kristina is introduced to “crank” while visiting her largely absent and ne’er-do-well father. While under the influence of the monster, Kristina discovers her sexy alter-ego, Bree: “there is no perfect daughter, / no gifted high school junior, / no Kristina Georgia Snow. / There is only Bree.” Bree will do all the things good girl Kristina won’t, including attracting the attention of dangerous boys who can provide her with a steady flow of crank.

disconnect lois peterson coverDisconnect by Lois Peterson
Publisher: Orca Book Publisher
Release date: October 1 2012
Since moving hundreds of miles to a new school, Daria has become increasingly dependent on her cell phone. Texts, Facebook and phone calls are her only connection to her friends in Calgary, and Daria needs to know everything that is going on at home to feel connected to her old life. Her cell phone habit looks a lot like addiction to her mother and to her new friend Cleo. Daria dismisses the idea of technology addiction as foolish until her habit puts a life in danger.

far from you tess sharpe coverFar From You by Tess Sharpe
Publisher: Disney-Hyperion
Release date: April 8 2014
Sophie Winters nearly died. Twice. The first time, she’s fourteen, and escapes a near-fatal car accident with scars, a bum leg, and an addiction to Oxy. The second time, Sophie and her best friend Mina are confronted by a masked man in the woods. Sophie survives, but Mina is not so lucky. When the cops deem Mina’s murder a drug deal gone wrong, casting partial blame on Sophie, no one will believe the truth: Sophie has been clean for months, and it was Mina who led her into the woods that night for a meeting shrouded in mystery. Mina’s brother won’t speak to her, her parents fear she’ll relapse, old friends have become enemies, and Sophie has to learn how to live without her other half. To make matters worse, no one is looking in the right places and Sophie must search for Mina’s murderer on her own.

how i made it to eighteen tracy white coverHow I Made it to Eighteen by Tracy White
Publisher: Roaring Brook Press
Release date: June 8 2010
How do you know if you’re on the verge of a nervous breakdown? For seventeen-year-old Stacy Black, it all begins with the smashing of a window. After putting her fist through the glass, she checks into a mental hospital. Stacy hates it there but despite herself slowly realizes she has to face the reasons for her depression to stop from self-destructing. How I Made it to Eighteen is a frank portrait of what it’s like to struggle with self-esteem, body image issues, drug addiction, and anxiety.

impulse ellen hopkins coverImpulse by Ellen Hopkins
Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books
Release date: January 23 2007
Three lives, three different paths to the same destination: Aspen Springs, a psychiatric hospital for those who have attempted the ultimate act — suicide. Vanessa is beautiful and smart, but her secrets keep her answering the call of the blade. Tony, after suffering a painful childhood, can only find peace through pills. And Conner, outwardly, has the perfect life. But dig a little deeper and find a boy who is in constant battle with his parents, his life, himself. Now they have a second chance, and just maybe, with each other’s help, they can find their way to a better life — but only if they’re strong and can fight the demons that brought them here in the first place.

invincible amy reed coverInvincible by Amy Reed
Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books
Release date: April 28 2015
Evie was diagnosed with terminal cancer several months ago and told that by now she’d be dead. Then, miraculously, she may have a second chance to live. All Evie had wanted was her life back, but now that she has it, she feels like there’s no place for her in it—at least, not for the girl she is now. Her friends and her parents still see her as Cancer Girl, and her boyfriend’s constant, doting attention is suddenly nothing short of suffocating. Then Evie meets Marcus. She knows that he’s trouble, but she can’t help falling for him. Being near him makes her feel truly, fully alive. It’s better than a drug. His kiss makes her feel invincible—but she may be at the beginning of the biggest free fall of her life.

last night i sang to the monster benjamin alire saenz coverLast Night I Sang to the Monster by Benjamin Alire Saenz
Publisher: Cinco Puntos Press
Release date: September 1 2009
Zach is eighteen. He is bright and articulate. He’s also an alcoholic and in rehab instead of high school, but he doesn’t remember how he got there. He’s not sure he wants to remember. Something bad must have happened. Something really, really bad. Remembering sucks and being alive – well, what’s up with that?

no problem dayle campbell gaetz coverNo Problem by Dayle Campbell Gaetz
Publisher: Orca Book Publishers
Release date: June 1 2006
Curt seems to have it all – a girlfriend, friends, a good summer job and a guaranteed position on the baseball team with the promise of a professional career. Then, one misstep causes his world to unravel and his life to plummet into the depths of depression and addiction. A bleak yet ultimately hopeful story about one teen’s struggle with the pressures of growing up, fitting in and getting by.

other broken things christa desir coverOther Broken Things by Christa Desir
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Release date: January 12 2016
Nat’s not an alcoholic. Everybody parties, everybody does stupid things, like get in their car when they can barely see. Still, with six months of court-ordered AA meetings required, her days of vodka-filled water bottles are over. Her old friends want the party girl or nothing and her ex seems more interested in rehashing the past. But then a recovering alcoholic named Joe inserts himself into Nat’s life and things start looking up. Joe is funny, smart, and calls her out. He’s also older. A lot older. Nat’s connection to Joe is overwhelming but so are her attempts to fit back into her old world, all while battling the constant urge to crack a bottle and forget. Now in order to make a different kind of life, Natalie must pull together her broken parts and learn to fight for herself.

romancing the dark in the city of light coverRomancing the Dark in the City of Light by Ann Jacobus
Publisher: St. Martin’s Griffin
Release date: October 6 2015
After being kicked out of four boarding schools, Summer Barnes has to get on track or she risks losing her hefty inheritance. Summer is convinced that meeting the right guy will solve everything. Moony, a classmate, is recovering against all odds from a serious car accident, and he encourages Summer to embrace life despite how hard it can be to make it through even one day. But when Summer meets Kurt, a hot, mysterious older man who she just can’t shake, he leads her through the creepy underbelly of Paris-and way out of her depth. When Summer’s behavior manages to alienate everyone, even Moony, she’s forced to decide if a life so difficult is worth living.

spiral by d denman coverSpiral by K.L. Denman
Publisher: Orca Books Publisher
Release date: October 1 2008
When fifteen-year-old Abby is seriously injured, her wounds go far deeper than her broken back. Rehabilitation therapy teaches her to cope with her new physical reality but once she’s home with her family, she refuses to participate in life and withdraws into a world of drugs. Abby’s family discovers her addiction, and she is sent to a farm that specializes in Equine Assisted Therapy. She must still do battle with her cravings, but when she witnesses the connection between another young patient and a pony, she decides that if this girl can heal, she too can learn to be present in life again.

thicker than water coverThicker Than Water by Kelly Fiore Stultz
Publisher: HarperTeen
Release date: January 5 2016
Cecelia Price killed her brother. At least, that’s what the police and the district attorney are saying. And although Cecelia is now locked up and forced into treatment, she knows the real story is much more complicated. Cyrus wasn’t always the drug-addled monster he’d become. He was a successful athlete, but when an injury forced him off the soccer field, his life became a blur of anger, addiction, and violence. All CeCe could do was stand by and watch, until she realized one effective way to take away her brother’s drugs while earning the money she needed for college: selling the pills. But even when all she wants is to make things right, she learns that sometimes the best intentions lead to the worst possible outcome.

tweak by nic sheff coverTweak by Nic Sheff
Publisher: Atheneum Books for Young Readers
Release date: February 19 2008
Nic Sheff was drunk for the first time at age eleven. In the years that followed, he would regularly smoke pot, do cocaine and Ecstasy, and develop addictions to crystal meth and heroin. Even so, he felt like he would always be able to quit and put his life together whenever he needed to. It took a violent relapse one summer in California to convince him otherwise.

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About Author

Julie Daly

Julie Daly is sometimes known as Julianne. A recent college grad, when not job hunting, Julie is watching Netflix, talking about YA on twitter, or trying to make her cats play. In 2009, Julie joined a group blog called Bloggers[Heart]Books and her obsession with all things YA has grown exponentially. Though she no longer blogs, she did create #quietYA and is a cofounder of Blogbound Con. Julie has also interned at several publishers and sometimes plays bookseller. Follow her on Twitter at @DailyJulianne.