Samantha’s life is always uncertain; that’s because her father is an alcoholic and her mother is in denial. With a four-year-old brother around, Sam is frequently the one who has to watch out for him and keep him safe from their father’s negligence.
Life is also not easy because Sam is thirteen, in eighth grade, and trying to deal with all the social pressures that come with being at the beginning of high school. As a way to cope and to seek help, Sam begins a correspondence with who she thinks is a girl she sees studying at the library. (They leave each other notes in a particular book in the library.)
Slowly Sam begins to see a way out of her troubles at school and in her personal life; that is until one fateful evening when she loses control at a party. Her world begins to crash in around her and Sam realizes she and her father both need more help than an anonymous pen pal can give.
Friend, N. (2006). Lush. New York, NY: Scholastic Inc.
I liked this book more than I expected to. I read it because I thought this might be a book to recommend to our students who like realistic or “sad” books. (Many of our female readers fall into this category.) After reading it, I think I can safely recommend it to that group.
I felt this was a realistic portrayal of what it might be like to have an alcoholic parent, but I think it’s pretty much a fairly mild version of that storyline. In the end, Sam’s dad is willing to get help and wants to get better. I think for many teens, this is not the case with their mom or dad.
The other story line is Sam’s school life. I think this was fairly portrayed and poses challenges for her, but again, I don’t think it was a worst case scenario; I know for a fact things could have been worse, but they were bad enough.
Overall, I think this is a book that will keep many teen’s attention and deals with several touchy topics with sensitivity and insight. I liked it and will look for more from this author.
Thirteen-year-old Samantha’s father is an alcoholic. When he is sober, he is a great guy, but when he is drunk, he is scary and abusive. With her mother in denial and a four-year-old brother to protect, Sam writes a note asking for advice and leaves it in the library, hoping an older girl she admires will write back to her. So begins a correspondence in which Sam opens up about her father’s alcoholism as well as her crush on an older boy. In return, the letter writer, who goes only by initials, reveals some hard truths. As she did in Perfect (2005), Friend adeptly takes a teen problem and turns it into a believable, sensitive, character-driven story, with realistic dialogue. The cautiously optimistic ending works because Friend has convinced readers that Sam can handle whatever happens. Friend, who clearly understands and empathizes with young teens, is a writer to watch.
Carton, D. (2006, November 1). [Review of the book Lush, by N. Friend]. Booklist 103(5), 41. Retrieved from http://www.booklistonline.com
I think this should be displayed with other “problem” books or on a list of realistic fiction for teens. I think this might also be a candidate for bibliotherapy. Some counselors will have their patients read books that can help them with their issues- in fact, Sam is given a stack of self-help books for teens with alcoholic parents (or other family members) towards the end of the book. (To be clear, it is not a counselor who gives them to her, but the purpose is the same.) I think this is a book that gives a positive example of how these problems arise and how they may be dealt with. I am not offering this as a substitute to counseling or other professional help, but am thinking a little towards the future.
**In the UK and Australia some libraries partner with counselors and doctors to create lists of books that may be “prescribed” for patients. The doctor or counselor will give the patient a prescription for a book or books and the patient may come to the library to have it filled.