I got five.
The story is told through a few different types of chapters. There are narratives, essay questions, drug and alcohol history forms, and scenes of group therapy where the reader looks on from the outside like a fly on the wall.
CLEAN has been described as The Breakfast Club in rehab, and while that premise intrigued me from the beginning (I've always been a huge fan of rehab and psych. ward stories in general,) I was a little bit worried that all the different token personalities would come off too cliche- there's the tough guy, the emo basket case, the sensitive boy with a secret, the girl who is too perfect, and the girl who isn't perfect enough.
Would the book feel rushed because of the numerous points of view? Would the voices be too similar? Would the entire thing come off as a cheesy gimmick about the ins and outs of addiction? These were all the potential fears I had, things that I was prepared to overlook if Reed's signature amazing writing voice came through to pull me by the heart through the individual story lines.
The writing didn't have to save anything, though, although it was painfully gorgeous and heart wrenching, living up to the intensity of BEAUTIFUL and then adding some. It became very clear after meeting Kelly, Olivia, Christopher, Jason, and Eva that this book was going to take me on an emotional ride.
And that it did!
I was truly impressed with how Reed created five full, fleshed out main characters instead of highlighting one or two and making the others more like side characters. The teens each had their own complete world of feelings and anguish and perspective, and comparing them to each other and watching them interact was fascinating. It was also interesting to see how five drastically different lives could bring these teens to the exact same place: fighting the all consuming disease of addiction and attempting to release hidden feelings inside that are tearing them apart.
Amy Reed handled the subject of addiction with both grace and brutal reality, but you don't need to feel familiar with the subject in order to relate to each of these characters in one way or the other. The problems behind the addiction, the feelings these kids were trying to figure out for the sake of their lives, were as real as anything else and reminded me that nobody is immune to pain. Questions that we privately ask ourselves, questions that we'd never admit to asking, are being brought into the light and dissected before our eyes as the story goes on.
The sharp individual voices and intriguing home lives of these teens is what hooked me in the beginning, but by the end I found myself rooting for them all. The ending might come off as abrupt to some people, but I think it worked very well because it was realistic and lets you draw out your own hopes and fears for the future of these kids.
Check out this awesome interview with Amy herself!
1. What are the challenges of writing your second novel that are different from writing a first novel?
I think with any kind of art, the artist always wants to keep improving. So I guess writing my second book was difficult because I put pretty high expectations on myself. I was really proud of Beautiful, and I wanted to be even prouder of Clean, so I think I was harder on myself while writing Clean; the critical voice in my head was much louder. I also knew that I had an incredible responsibility in portraying these characters’ lives and recovery in the most truthful way possible. I really had to get to know everything about them--their families, histories, fears, dreams, motivations, secrets, and so many things that didn’t actually make it into the book. I had to know all these things to make sure the characters were real and unique, not just cookie-cutter, stereotypical “troubled kids.”
2. Both CLEAN and your previous novel, BEAUTIFUL, deal with heavy themes, like drug use. What has made you interested in tackling these subjects?
I’m not really sure, but I seem to have always been drawn to dark, gritty stories and wounded characters. People tend to do extreme things when they’re caught in extreme situations, and this is when I find them most fascinating--when the stakes are really high, when people are at their most vulnerable and broken and lost. For me, the courage that comes in these moments of great pain is the most compelling and inspiring.
3. What are your greatest fears as a writer?
That I will be misunderstood.
4. What are your greatest hopes as a writer?
That what I write will help readers think about who they really are, what they believe in, and the importance of integrity and following your heart even when it seems like no one else is.
5. If you could pick one character from literature that you most relate to, who would it be and why?
The first one that comes to mind is Jean Valjean from Les Misérables by Victor Hugo. He is heroic for many reasons, but what touched me the most was his ability to change and find redemption. Because of poverty, he was driven to a life of crime. But despite his dark past, he undergoes a tremendous transformation. He becomes a very kind and honorable man and does a lot of great things. His is the story of what people are capable of, even when their backgrounds seem to have doomed them, even though society seems to want them to stay back where they came from. It is the story of someone who continues to do the right thing, even though it is often the most difficult path. He maintains his integrity despite all the pressures against him. Maybe he’s not the character I’m most like, but he’s the one I most hope I can become.
Thanks so much Amy, for both the awesome read and the interview. Keep 'em coming!