5 Fictional Accounts of Substance Abuse That Get It Right
A few weeks ago I outlined the 10 best films tackling the heavy topic of substance abuse and recovery in two posts: “5 Best Films Exploring Substance Abuse and Recovery” and “5 More Films About Substance Abuse” (A+ for the creative titles, right? Sarcasm.)
Well today I’ve got a brand new list for those of us seeking some true-to-life depictions of addiction in entertainment: books! As someone who thoroughly enjoys getting lost in the pages of a book and engrossed in the stories they hold, I couldn’t resist compiling this list of 5 fictional accounts of substance abuse that get it right.
The summer will be upon us before we know it (hopefully anyway, I’m getting tired of the cold weather, and I live in Florida), so why not start putting together your reading list today? Here a few books to start with:
Go Ask Alice by Anonymous (Beatrice Sparks)
For some people this might be a re-read; “Go Ask Alice” has been a part of a few required reading lists since it was first published in 1971, despite the controversial content of the novel. Some parents were outraged, claiming that the story is too gritty and mature for younger audiences. But that’s exactly who it’s written for: this first person, diary-formatted account of a teenage girl’s dark and dangerous foray into substance abuse in an attempt to belong and cope with life.
Though the book has been in print for nearly 45 years, I won’t spoil the ending for those of you reading it for the first time. It’s stood the test of time as a cautionary tale for millions of young adults and teens which still remains relevant to this day and gave birth to an entire series of other tales told in the same manner. Raw and unflinching, “Go Ask Alice” may be a work of fiction, but it rings too true to thousands of real people who need their stories to be heard one way or another.
Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace
If there’s one thing I enjoy in literature, it’s a voice which does not take itself or the reader too seriously. I appreciate dry humor and frank, intelligent exploration of what it truly means to be human. That being said, “Infinite Jest” is right up my alley- it is, in turns, unapologetically crass, intellectually poetic, and downright hilarious.
But “Infinite Jest” is more than that- it is an exploration into humanity as a multi-faceted, endlessly complex entity with boundless potential, yet our primary objective seems to be entertainment. We probe into the idea that maybe addiction is a direct result of this driving need to be constantly stimulated, rather it is through television, drugs, sex, food- anything, really, seems to feed our baser needs to be ever occupied. With a conglomerate of different characters, we are guided through an exploration of the different facets of humanity through the clever weaving between humor and profound analysis. “Infinite Jest” forces you to think, to consider things beyond assumptions and really consider and understand just how ingrained addiction can be in the human condition.
Taipei by Tao Lin
This new approach to the coming-of-age novel has a lot of the classical elements one would expect from such a novel: hardships, self-discovery, the pain of love, and spur of the moment traveling. “Taipei” goes a bit further, however, with the titular character also attempting to find the roots of his family’s heritage in their home country of Taiwan by travelling from New York overseas. We follow him through heartbreak into new hope, on petty crime excursions, and through explorations of the beauty of art and the New York scene.
Alive, young, and on the fringe, the story found in “Taipei” is one we can all relate to on some level. Rather you are a member of an migrated family trying to bond with your culture, a young twenty-something struggling to get started in adulthood, or recalling the bittersweet sting of that first, insane time you fell in love, “Taipei” is quintessentially what it means to come of age in 21st century America.
Dog Soldiers Robert Stone
There’s a reason so many stories stem from the Vietnam War. With horrors on both sides, tensions in the U.S. regarding America’s involvement, and the emergence of what was then known as “shell shock” among returning veterans, the consequences of entering into the Vietnam War were far reaching. Most people don’t realize that also includes a massive influence on the drug trade.
Through “Dog Soldiers” we see a journalist struggling to stay relevant in the final days of the war. John Converse, the aforementioned journalist, thinks he’s found a big break when he decides to just headfirst into the torrent world of drug trafficking. He realizes he’s over his head upon returning to the U.S. when everything goes wrong, including entanglement with crooked cops, rivals, and hit men. If you want something that shows the gritty, less-than-glamorous side of 1970s drug abuse in America, this book is it.
Johnny Future by Steve Abee
This is another coming of age story with an unfortunate twist. Under the influence of drugs and possible mental illness, “Johnny Future” follows the sad story of a man by the same name who struggles to come to terms with the inevitable death of his grandmother- the only mother he’s ever known. Immature in many ways, it hard to like Johnny at first- but equally hard to hate him. He seems to suffer from some form of psychosis, with inanimate objects- street signs, exterminator icons, and the like- talking to him, insisting on his uselessness and his status as a world-class loser.
Johnny eventually befriends a sex worker named America and decides to steal a car, going on a wild ride of an adventure attempting to save his grandmother from her rapidly approaching death. “Johnny Future” will have you rooting for the underdog, even if you don’t quite understand his modus operandi.
While we’re on the subject of books…
Why not add the Harbor Village eBooks to your reading list? They’re FREE and informative! Download “It Takes a Village” and “Holistic Healing for Addiction” today!
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About the Author
Alexandrea Holder is a South Florida native working toward double Master’s degrees in Psychology and English. She finds the psychological aspects of addiction and mental illness fascinating, as both are prevalent in her family’s history. When not researching and spreading addiction awareness, Alexandrea enjoys sparring, artistic pursuits, and admiring puppies online.