Normal Kid, Hooked on Oxy

‘Heroine,’ a Realistic Novel About a High-Performing Student Athlete With an Opioid Habit

Back in the ‘70s, it was a little book called Go Ask Alice. Purportedly a found diary, it chronicled a 15-year-old’s rapid descent from social anxiety into addiction, prostitution, and eventually death after she tried LSD-laced punch at a party.

Since then there have been plenty of cautionary tales aimed at substance-experimenting teens, from “Alice” contemporary S.E. Hinton’s That Was Then, This is Now to more modern takes like Tim Tharp’s The Spectacular Now (alcoholism) and Ellen Hopkins’ Crank (crystal meth).

Mindy McGinnis, author of Heroine. Photo by Amy Parrish.

Today, opioid addiction dominates headlines. In Heroine, Mindy McGinnis offers a hypnotic dive into the speed with which that addiction strikes.

High-school senior Mickey Catalan’s whole life is softball. She’s the team’s catcher, and her best friend Carolina is the pitcher. They’re laughing in the front seat together, Mickey flashing her lights at an oncoming car with its brights still on, when the crash happens.

It crushes Mickey’s hip and Carolina’s arm. Suddenly the season they dreamed of is in jeopardy, fallen low on a priority list topped by physical therapy, rest, and time to heal.

Softball comprises virtually all of Mickey’s identity. She worries about how long it will take to get back on her feet after surgeons insert three screws in her hip, how she can possibly compress the rehab schedule to make it to spring conditioning, and how her mother will grapple with the news when she’s already dealing with a baby on the way from Mickey’s new stepmother.

The only time she doesn’t worry is after her dose of OxyContin.

“With the Oxy working I can push myself during therapy, but always there’s a comfortable fall-back, the acceptance that even if everything isn’t going to be okay … I’ll be fine,” Mickey thinks early on. “The Oxy doesn’t just take the pain away, it wraps up all my nervous what ifs and I can’ts and says–screw it.”

Mickey runs through her hospital-prescribed bottle quicker than she expects. She dissolves into tears when her pediatrician won’t give her more. Enter Edith, a kindly older woman driving a busload of seniors to their medical appointments nearby. Edith digs in her purse and palms her a single pill–the first one’s always free!–and her phone number.

From there, the slope gets mighty slippery. At Edith’s, Mickey finds not just pilfered Oxy but understanding, as well as a glamorous new friend. Josie carries a Coach bag, counts out her cash with well-manicured nails, and exudes confidence. With Carolina’s new boyfriend occupying more of her time, Josie perfectly fits a companion-shaped hole in Mickey’s life.

McGinnis adeptly chronicles addiction plot points, from Mickey’s increasing lies to her family and friends to the less-than-savory physical side effects of opioid dependency.

Importantly, she also captures these steps against the backdrop of a normal teen life, complete with loving parents, stern coaches, and refusals of alcohol: “If I get caught drinking, I’m off the team. Not worth it,” Mickey reflexively tells Josie, just a few hours after they’ve both popped 80-milligram tabs of Oxy. Teens could easily see themselves making the same justifications Mickey does as she sinks deeper into dependency: “I think of it as a maintenance drug, taking two 80s every day the same way Bella Right takes her birth control pills or Mom does for her Cymbalta.”

Heroine, with its rendering of team dynamics, feels like a natural for student athletes. But with its stark yet relatable portrait of addiction, it demands attention from all demographics, from teens seeking to fit in to the parents who guide them.

(Katherine Tegen Books/HarperCollins, March 12, 2019)

Sharyn Vane

Sharyn Vane has reported and edited at newspapers in Washington, D.C., Colorado, Florida and Texas. For the last decade she has written about literature for young people for the Austin American-Statesman.

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