Amy Reed sets her new novel, Clean, in a drug and alcohol rehab clinic for teens. Actually, she tosses us in and locks the door behind us until graduation, and it’s a tough but fascinating sentence to serve.
Clean follows five teens through treatment: Christopher (“the nerdy guy”), Kelly (“the pretty girl”), Jason (“the tough guy”), Eva (“the emo/Goth girl”) and Olivia, who just got there. Through journal entries, medical forms and transcribed group therapy sessions with hard-nosed counselor Shirley, we learn each person’s story a little at a time. While the path to becoming an addict is always bleak, teasing out the details makes Clean unfold like a mystery. Is the guy climbing in Christopher’s bedroom window real or imaginary? Olivia is “just” hooked on diet pills; does she really belong here?
With a subject as broad as addiction, Reed uses small moments to show us daily life in rehab. A simple thing like watching a movie now requires kids to sit two feet apart with no blankets, after previous residents were busted in a moment of intimacy under the covers.
When it’s time for graduation, we don’t know who will stay sober, but the characters in Clean make us hope for the best, for them and for anyone facing a similar challenge.