Sheff, Nic. Tweak New York: Ginee Seo Books, 2007.
I thought I'd better read this book if I was going to have it on the library shelf. Part One of the book was intense, and I really questioned whether I would put this out or not. I even looked up why I bought it (it is on the Outstanding Books for the College Bound list along with his dad's book Beautiful Boy). In fact, until I read Part Two of the book, I was not going to shelve it.
This detailed, non-fiction book is not for the faint of heart. There are very graphic scenes of sex and drug use. I was afraid that my student readers would read this as a "how to" or as an endorsement that this type of behavior is acceptable. I won't promote this book (and I'm not sure why because I do have kids reading Ellen Hopkins and her stuff is gritty, raw and real). There is something that doesn't set with me about this book. I'm afraid the message Sheff is making through this memoir won't get to the audience.
Part One is a roller coaster of high after high, broken promises, hustling, drugs and more drugs. He started using meth when he was eighteen. This was after trying several other drugs and living an "overexposed" (adult) lifestyle as a child (Sheff 160). He "dropped out of college twice, my parents kicked me out...I broke into their house...I stole hundreds of dollars from the register...got arrested for a possession charge" (Sheff 5). He felt like he was "held captive by some insatiable monster that will not let me [Nic] stop" (Sheff 6). But the fact is, he doesn't want to stop (Sheff 20). He keeps in this vicious circle in spite of the many people who tried to help him. It made me so mad as a reader because I know it feels like to try and help someone who doesn't want or accept the help. Nic tries to stop, but he really doesn't. He often seemed like, "Oh well, can't stop, so I'll just keep enjoying it." He claims the meth "is more powerful than anything" (Sheff 34). Addictions of any kind are like this. He doesn't like who he is, both physically ["there's something about outward appearances that has always been important to me" (Sheff 36)] and inside his mind. He is a perfectionist, so when he can't be perfect, he excuses his behavior. This really upset me. Nic is a "good" kid with so many opportunities and privileges that he is just throwing away because of drugs. His "friend" Gack explains that the constant hunt for the next high is "living. Every day is an adventure" (Sheff 123). This is a sad, terrifying way to live life. The first part of the book ends with Nic praying to a god in which he doesn't believe and going back home (Sheff 125). His friend/sponsor Spencer will help.
Part Two starts with chipper Spencer getting Nic back on his bike. (Truly a metaphor here!). Spencer tells Nic to write down "a list of all the things you want out of life" and "in one year from today, one year, if you follow this program to the best of your ability, you will have everything you wanted and more" (Sheff 134). There is hope, but Nic doesn't believe it. "There's no way I can get these things--there's just no way" (Sheff 136). Spencer tells Nic to be patient and talk to God. "The longer I experiment with relying on God, the more I will come to believe. So I try it. I ask God for help in every aspect of my life, even if I don't really believe it" (Sheff 144). As a reader, I'm hopeful and skeptical. He is clean, working a steady job and "for the first time ever, I want to take responsibility for myself and the effect I have on others" (Sheff 171). Hallelujah! Spencer tries to explain to Nic that "being sober isn't just about not using. Being sober is about the joy of a life of clarity and living by spiritual principles can bring" (Sheff 173). Things are going great until Zelda reunites with Nic. The longer they are together, the more Nic turns away from being clear headed. Nic even asks himself "What the hell is wrong with me? I have so much and I always want to throw it away. Why am I this way?" (Sheff 153). I feel for his struggle here. However, he's quite childish in his stubbornness that no one sees in her what he sees. [This should be a warning. If everyone else is telling you to get away from him/her, GET AWAY!]. Nic absolutely becomes consumed by Zelda and starts using drugs again. As the story built up, I knew exactly where that relationship was heading. Nic even tries to say it is "God's will for me....I don't want to hear anything different and I don't ask for any validation" (Sheff 208). NO! NO! NO! I don't even want to write about Nic's life with Zelda. It's immature and superficial. Nic explains that he "lashes out at everyone who tries to help me, just trying to scare them away so they can stop giving a damn about me and let me throw my life away in peace" (Sheff 259). This is Nic's mental attitude, and it's heartbreaking. Nic FINALLY realizes "I can't go with Zelda. I'll just get high again and all these days of hell in detox will have been wasted" (Sheff 284). Finally, he's getting it, even if he say he's going to "play this rehab game perfectly" (Sheff 292)!
The book is written in present tense, even though it is a memoir. As a reader, I felt like I was in the moment with Nic. I was happy when he was clean and disappointed when he used. The end of the book was disappointing to me. I've just endured 300+ pages to be left with part of the "family weekend" at rehab complete. This made me mad. I know I can do some research and find out where Nic is and how he's doing today. The epilogue had him moving to Savannah and working on this book. I really want to know what happened to Spencer.
Interestingly, a book that I was unsure of seems to draw much out of me for this post.