Lush, by Natasha Friend. New York: Scholastic, 2006. 178 pp. ISBN 9780439853460
Inspired by the personal stories of two close friends who grew up in households with alcoholic parents, and affected by alcoholism in her own extended family, Natasha Friend decided to write about the experience of a young teen with an alcoholic father. Her fictional protagonist is Sam, a thirteen year-old girl. Sam's alcoholic father's unpredictability and a shocking act of violence to toward Sam’s preschool-age brother lead to Sam's acute need to seek assistance with coping with the situation. Yet she finds it impossible to share her frustration with anyone, not even her closest friends. She thus initiates an anonymous correspondence with another teen, accomplished by exchanging notes inside one of the books at their local library. Meanwhile, Sam also experiences various common aspects of teen life, including navigating a rift between herself and her former best friend, her self-consciousness about her quickly developing body, and a very brief romantic relationship.
Sam is a very likeable protagonist who does not approach her dilemma melodramatically, but with believable frustration and also a sense of humor and a tad bit of sarcasm. She is also real, and like her father, does not always make the best decisions herself. And I really enjoyed the letters she writes to her anonymous friend. They are poignant, but I also found myself laughing out loud at her humorous observations in several instances. The novel's ending does not tie up everything with a cute little bow, but it is realistic and hopeful, and we know that Sam has taken positive steps in one of the areas she can control, namely sharing her family secret with friends old and new and allowing them to be a support system for her. What some may find controversial about this novel is that Sam’s first experience drinking alcohol leads to her near sexual assault by several boys. This incident is pivotal to Sam’s development and to Friend’s message, however, because it helps Sam and readers internalize more personally the potential destructive outcomes of drinking.
HOW THIS BOOK HELPS
Lush lets teens living in alcoholic households know that they are not alone, and suggests possible coping strategies. At the end of the book, Friend includes a list of resources for such teens, including hotlines,Web sites, and books.
WHY I CHOSE TO READ IT
I wanted to learn more about the experience of growing up with an alcoholic parent.