The Books behind the Movie: Beautiful Boy

Beautiful Boy: A Father’s Journey Through His Son’s Addiction
by David Sheff,
Published by Mariner Books (2007)
Rating: ****

Tweak: Growing up on Methamphetamines
by Nic Sheff
Published by Atheneum Books for Young Readers (2008)
Rating: ***

I first heard about the Sheffs’ story when I saw the trailer for “Beautiful Boy”, starring Steve Carrell and Timothée Chalamet. The trailer had me hooked. I was intrigued by the father-son relationship, and when I found out that there were two books, one written by the father, and one by the son – allowing you to see two perspectives to the story in realtime, in first-person narration, I just had to read them. I read both back-to-back one evening, gripped by the experience, the grief, the love, and the story.

Nic Sheff writes about his own exposure to drugs and alcohol and becoming addicted to meth. David Sheff writes about watching his son getting exposed, and his own exposure to his son – when he was high, and the struggle in loving someone unconditionally. Nic’s own narration is factual, it reads the way an autobiography would – outlining anecdotes and emotional responses, with a lot of reflection about these instances. David’s narration is largely emotional – dealing with the anguish of conflict and confrontation with his own child, and feelings associated with uncertainty about his son’s whereabouts and activities.

These are gripping reads, both of them are. I admire their willingness to share this very, very personal story. David Sheff is a writer and journalist, and the writing flair comes across almost immediately, permeating through the book. Nic’s book, on the other hand is slightly less refined, in quite a few places. It would, however, be absurd to draw conclusions without reading both accounts of the same experience, which is what pushed me to get through the writing, in parts where I struggled.

After reading them, I watched the movie.

I think that’s when the impact of the books really hit me. This is a very real story. It’s people’s lives, told out – in their messy glory. I’m not an addict, and I’m not certain what kind of impact this kind of literature has on addicts themselves. But it’s someone’s personal account, and I think that’s valuable. For me, as a non-addict, it got me to grasp at how grave the issue can get, and the kind of conflict you might go through if you’re in close proximity with someone who suffers with addiction. It also taught me about the different kinds of rehabilitation processes that exist in response to addiction, and the kind of things one might go through while using those facilities and processes. It got me to understand addiction from a fresh perspective, which I’m grateful for.

 

 

Sadie | Courtney Summers

Sadie
by Courtney Summers
Published by Wednesday Books (2018)
Rating: **** 

This is an atypical read for me largely because it isn’t a book that I would buy off of shelves if I merely read the blurb. The reason I chose to read this book is that one of my friends absolutely loved it, and recommended that I give it a try, which is never something I’m averse to. This is a fast-read, but there’s a couple of warnings I’d like to put at the start of my review, so you can stop reading in case you get triggered. The book isn’t happy in any sense. It is not a book that builds up to a happy ending, and there is no moment where I caught myself smiling while reading it. It’s an incredibly serious read. It discusses several themes that are difficult to speak about in society. Rather, it highlights experiences that contain social stigma attached to them, and lead to victim-shaming culture. My trigger warnings include: murder, suicide, child prostitution, paedophilia, sexual abuse, and drug abuse.

With that being said, let’s examine the text.

Sadie follows the story of one dead girl, one missing girl, and a quest for revenge. Nineteen-year-old Sadie is determined to find who she believes to be her younger sister Maddie’s killer. With few clues to go on, she decides to embark on a journey to find him and make him pay for what he did. This is what the overarching plot is.

It seems pretty straightforward, and perhaps a story that could simply be described as a mystery – with Sadie acting as detective. But Summers manages to achieve a lot more with her writing. The novel is told in two distinct time-periods, and distinct points of view, which help with how the plot is built. The first is Sadie’s point of view, told in the past tense, with her tracking down her sister’s killer – a man who knows how to disappear better than most. The second is West McCray’s true crime radio show transcript called The Girls, where he attempts to find Sadie by following the little information the police offer him. These are very, very unique points of view, which help draw a very human connection to everything that transpires – something that stuck with me at the end of the book. Society reports events like these very narrative-like and with a victim-blaming angle to most of the reportage around it. By choosing to give the “victim” here a voice, and providing the voice of somebody trying to find her, desperately, Summers is able to portray nuances in emotion, and engage the reader in a way that makes you question every character’s motive and motivation. This sense of anticipation and suspense is really heightened in the last 20 pages, which I think could have been published separately – they’re the most logical (albeit dreadful) conclusion to a story of this kind.

The conclusion of the book is worth the read because of how realistic it is. It’s the only thing that makes sense in a world like ours. And you’ll hate yourself for knowing how Sadie’s story ends, but Summers’ manages to draw you in, page after page.

What I’m most impressed by is Summers’ ability to write a podcast transcript. I like true crime podcasts and shows as much as anybody – and most media houses seem to thrive on the market. Very few are any good. Writing a podcast transcript is an art that this author really nails down. The idea of a podcast like narrative really set the tone for West McCray’s voice. I often found myself reading the narrative the way I’d narrate a true crime podcast – which added a new layer of engagement to the reading experience. McCray is an underappreciated character on Goodreads – and I would’ve appreciated a bit more about him in the book. I also docked a star because in places, Summers’ writing style can lead to a frustratingly slow pace and a lot of artificially manufactured tension.

Overall, I think it’s worth reading because it forces you to think about society. It’s also a book that’ll make you pray that we become better as a world – because it seems ridiculous that we’ve got so much nonsense going down. The book is raw, which means that it forces you to accept the truth – no matter how uncomfortable that may make you feel.