If you have not read Opioid, Indiana by Brian Allen Carr, you should, you really should. It's one of the best books I've read this year. Carr vividly details the lives of those in small-town Middle America, where drugs and neglect, both social and personal, are endemic. And yet this is a hopeful book in which 17-year-old Riggle goes out looking for his addicted uncle and the rent money, and finds purpose and possibly a future. The descriptions of Central Indiana weather are particularly spot on, and poetic. Don't walk, run, to your library and get this lyrical, heart-wrenching, life-affirming novel. If you like Opioid, Indiana, I've got some other books that you may enjoy as well, all published in the past two years.
Whiskey When We're Dry by John Larison is the tale of Jessilyn Harney, out to find her outlaw brother in order to save the family homestead. Traveling through the Old West disguised as a boy, "Jesse" is able to use her sharpshooting skills on both sides of the law in her search as she comes to some very important realizations. Like Carr's book, this novel involves a search for one thing that turns into the finding of something else, with a distinctive voice that will stick with you.
Trent Dalton's Boy Swallows Universe takes place in an Australian suburb, narrated by Eli, who hopes to finagle a career in journalism despite his addicted and dealing parental figures. From the ages of 12 to 18 Eli matures, learning some very hard truths, but comes out on the other end mostly intact. Another unique narrative voice, and terrific characterization.
Gods With A Little G by Tupelo Hassman takes place in another tiny town not unlike Opioid, this one full of religiously conservative "thumpers" who both loathe and depend on narrator Helen's aunt's psychic business. Helen herself likes to drink beers with her friends and listen to the radio stations broadcasting out of a nearby, liberal enclave. She also questions everything on her way to maturity, learning mostly by making poor decisions. Helen's voice shines through the short chapters, and while not heavy on plot, this is another coming-of-age tale that end up making you feel like things will turn out okay for the protagonist.
Split Tooth, a novel by Tanya Tagaq, takes place on the tundra of Nunavut, northern Canada, during the 1970's. The unnamed, indigenous narrator discovers her shaman powers at the onset of puberty, and they help her make sense of and cope with the unending crises around her. Chapters are interlaced with poems, and the prose is often poetic as well. Nothing will test the protagonist like her pregnancy by a spiritual being, but once again, she will persevere.
Have more stories of facing adversity on the way to adulthood? Tell us in the comments.