Nelson offers another sharply focused portrait of a teen in crisis in this story of ex-party girl Maddie, who struggles to renew herself after being released from a rehab center. At Spring Meadow, Maddie's best moments come during her fleeting romance with another young patient, Stewart. After returning home, 16-year-old Maddie counts the days until Stewart's release, hoping they can take up where they left off. Meanwhile, she battles loneliness and isolation at her high school where her earlier drunken escapades earned her the nickname "Mad Dog Maddie," and her old friends pressure her to start using again. "It's so weird being straight," Maddie thinks. "You have no defenses. Shit happens and you have to feel it." Predictably, reuniting with Stewart isn't the answer to Maddie's problems, and tension rises as both teens' resolve to stay sober shows signs of weakening. Nelson (Destroy All Cars) gives a hard, honest appraisal of addiction, its often-fatal consequences, and the high probability of relapse. This is an important story that pulls no punches. Ages 13–18. (Mar.)
Children's Literature - Claudia Mills
"You can't tell what Spring Meadow is from the road," begins Nelson's moving novel of the powerful and enduring first love sixteen-year-old "Mad Dog Maddie" finds during her stay at the rehab centers along "Recovery Road." She first sees Stewart at "movie night," their instant bond intensified by the ban on male-female "fraternization." But hard as it is for the two of them to sustain their deepening relationship under the rehab regulations, it is vastly more difficult when each returns to life outside: high school and implausible college dreams for Maddie, continuing battles with addiction for Stewart. Nelson gives Maddie's first-person narration a compelling voice, showcasing his gift for memorable dialogue: e.g., when Maddie's rehab friend Trish, impressed by Maddie's violent past, peppers Maddie with questions about what it is like to "beat people up," Maddie tells her, "It's a great way to meet police officers." When Trish comments, "I would love to beat people up. How did you learn to do that?" Maddie answers, "I got really, really drunk and then it just came to me." Nelson delivers a searingly honest portrayal of the horrors of alcoholism and drug addiction without a shred of didacticism, and with deep and abiding compassion for the stumbling and scarred characters he creates. Highly recommended. Reviewer: Claudia Mills, Ph.D.
VOYA - Walter Hogan
We first meet Madeline (Maddy) on a literal Recovery Road, the local name for a quiet loop of asphalt winding around a string of rehabilitation facilities. Maddy has been assigned to Spring Meadows to dry out from her chronic abuse of alcohol and recreational drugs, and to get her anger under control. A smart high school junior from a wealthy Oregon suburb, Maddy delivers a vivid first-person perspective on the self-destructive lifestyle from which she eventually recovers. Along the way, she loses a number of fellow addicts, each of them unable to find the combination of support, determination, and luck that pulls Maddy through. Most painful is the loss of gorgeous, charismatic Stewart, Maddy's first love, whose promise and vitality are tragically squandered. Nelson resists numerous young adult problem novel cliches in this well-told story. Like all of the teen dialogue in the book, Maddy's narration is convincing but not overly cute or jargon-ridden. The sort of contemporary pop culture references that quickly date many YA novels are thankfully absent. All of the major characters are complex and believable. Social institutions and their personnel are portrayed as well intentioned but not heroic or infallible. Maddy fights hard to resist intense peer pressure to drink and use drugs, and one of her most valuable survival skills proves to be her hard-won ability to stop worrying about how she is perceived by her peers. Maddy's own road to recovery, and her frustrating efforts to help fellow substance abusers she meets along the way, make this a compelling problem novel. Reviewer: Walter Hogan
School Library Journal
Gr 8 Up—After one too many incidences of drinking and fighting, Madeline Graham's parents send her to Spring Meadows, which is just one of a string of rehab centers on what is called Recovery Road. She is just getting used to the routine of it all—therapy, work, and mealtime—but then, on one fateful weekly Movie Night in town, Maddie meets Stewart, a damaged teen fighting demons of his own. The two begin an intense relationship that flourishes in the bubble of recovery's routine. Once Maddie is released, though, she finds that their connection just isn't the same, even though she still loves him. She has sex for the first time while not drunk. When she tries to move on with her life, though, she feels the need to keep rescuing Stewart from himself. The story, told by Maddie, is all about finding the wrong kind of love and trying to make it right. She and Stewart have a deep connection because they understand one another on a different level due to what they are both going through. Maddie is a strong, likable teen, and the rest of the characters are believable and genuine as they help her move on with her life after rehab. The chapters are concise, which will grab reluctant readers. This is a great book for teens who are, or know someone who is, dealing with drug or alcohol addiction. Nelson doesn't glamorize it, but paints a portrait of the struggle that people go through when fighting substance abuse.—Kimberly Castle, Medina County District Library, OH
High-school badass and party girl "Mad Maddie" lands in rehab after pushing herself over the toxicity limit one too many times. At first her anger and stubbornness make it easy for her to resist the treatments and therapy sessions, but when she meets Stewart, an older, dreamy, floppy-haired resident at movie night, her attitude takes a turn for the better. Nelson then follows her rehabilitation from her re-entry into high school and then into college, packing in lots along the way. Recovery and relapse, love, forgiveness, regret and remembrance make for tough roadblocks along her journey. Each character is sharply drawn—particularly the new friends she makes outside of her old high-school clique. Thematically, the author handles the topic of addiction carefully. Readers know that Maddie and the friends she makes are making bad decisions, and they witness the fallout of addiction as it tears apart the victims' lives and her friends and family. Where the author excels in theme he falls short in plotting, however, and the passage of time from rehab to college feels messy and uneven, with too much packed into the book's slim span of pages. Still, readers will be captivated by the story of Maddie and people in her life, and the strengths and losses that help her succeed. (Fiction. 14-18)