Published by Katherine Tegen Books on March 12, 2019
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A captivating and powerful exploration of the opioid crisis—the deadliest drug epidemic in American history—through the eyes of a college-bound softball star. Edgar Award-winning author Mindy McGinnis delivers a visceral and necessary novel about addiction, family, friendship, and hope.
When a car crash sidelines Mickey just before softball season, she has to find a way to hold on to her spot as the catcher for a team expected to make a historic tournament run. Behind the plate is the only place she’s ever felt comfortable, and the painkillers she’s been prescribed can help her get there.
The pills do more than take away pain; they make her feel good.
With a new circle of friends—fellow injured athletes, others with just time to kill—Mickey finds peaceful acceptance, and people with whom words come easily, even if it is just the pills loosening her tongue.
But as the pressure to be Mickey Catalan heightens, her need increases, and it becomes less about pain and more about want, something that could send her spiraling out of control.
I received this book for free in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
Content warnings: addiction; opioid addiction; extensive drug use (opioid pills, heroin), described in detail; overdose; withdrawal; death; car accident; needles; vomiting
**Please use caution going into this review and/or this book if you are a recovered or recovering addict. This book contains content that could be extremely triggering.**
Mindy McGinnis is an author who I typically find very hit-or-miss, but her contemporaries always make me think and always tackle difficult subject matter with nuance. Heroine is no exception. In Heroine, McGinnis paints a harrowing and all-too-real picture of the US’s opioid crisis, the myriad types of people affected, and the complexity of the issue itself.
We follow Mickey Catalan, a high school softball star in her small Midwestern town. At the beginning of the book, Mickey is driving with her best friend and fellow softball teammate, Carolina, in the passenger seat, when the two are involved in a nasty car crash that leaves both of them severely injured and puts their futures in jeopardy. Mickey, unable to play or condition during her recovery from surgery and learning to live with three new screws holding her hip together, quickly becomes dependent on her Oxycontin prescription to get through each day. What begins as a quick fix for Mickey to escape her problems soon spirals into full-blown addiction.
I should say early in this review that I have personally never dealt with addiction, so take all of my thoughts on its portrayal in this story with a grain of salt. However, I think Heroine succeeded in capturing many of the thought processes of an addict. Throughout the book, Mickey justifies her drug use because she’s “not like other addicts”– she was first prescribed the drug completely legally, after all, unlike her newfound Oxy-using friends, who she continually demeans because they began using the drug recreationally. We see the victim-blaming narrative play out in Mickey’s inner monologue, even though she is in exactly the same situation as her fellow addicts. It may be cliche, but it’s true: the first step is admitting you have a problem, and Mickey is in deep, deep denial throughout this story.
We see Mickey start to slip away from her friend group and her softball team as she spends more and more time using with her new group of friends. She steals from her mom and stepmom in order to buy more drugs. When Mickey and her friends’ source of Oxycontin is no longer a viable option, they switch to easier-to-access heroin with almost no hesitation. Through all these things, Heroine truly captures the desperation addicts feel and the ways in which addiction can take over your life and your thoughts. It’s difficult to witness as a reader, because all the bad parts of addiction Mickey experiences feel so inevitable from the outside. However, reading from Mickey’s first-person perspective perfectly illustrates how people fall into addiction and why it feels to impossible to escape from the depths of it.
Mickey is no stranger to the opioid crisis– it’s taken over in her town, to the point where everyone knows someone affected– and yet that doesn’t stop her own dependency on the drug from happening. Heroine shows how, really, this can happen to anyone. As I mentioned, Mickey is originally prescribed Oxycontin completely legally, and it’s all too easy for her to access the drug even once her prescription runs out. I think this book illustrates some of the irresponsibility on the part of doctors and drug companies in prescribing opioids.
While I do think the portrayal of addiction in Heroine, though difficult to read, is a necessary one, the reason I can’t rate this book higher boils down to the complete and utter lack of connection I felt to all the characters in this story. We don’t get to spend any time with Mickey as a character before the car accident, so her whole personality in this book is her becoming a drug addict. We are continually told about her personality before the accident, but we’re never shown it, so it’s almost impossible to feel a real connection with her as a character. Additionally, her parents, softball teammates, user friends, and all other side characters in this story all felt like characters whose sole roles in this book were to further the events of Mickey’s plot– none of them felt like fully fleshed-out characters in their own right. I think this did a disservice to the book overall.
In short, this was a powerful read about a subject I’m glad YA is tackling, but don’t expect to find your new favorite characters in this story.
Have you read Heroine?