Author: Lisa Luedeke
Genre: YA, contemporary, tough stuff
Publication Date: August 28, 2012 (Margaret K. McElderry/Simon & Schuster – North America)
Source: Publisher-provided review copy
Summary: Stay out of trouble for one more year, and Katie Martin can leave her small town loneliness behind forever. She is a field hockey star on the fast track to a college scholarship, but her relationship with alcohol has always been a little questionable. Then trouble finds her. Alec is the most popular guy in school, and also the biggest bully—with his sights set firmly on Katie. When Alec turns on the charm, Katie thinks she must have been wrong about him.
Except that she wasn’t. On a rain-soaked, alcohol-drenched night, one impulsive decision leaves Katie indebted to Alec in the worst possible way. This debut novel is a fast-paced and compelling story of addiction, heartbreak, and redemption.
☆: 3.5/5 stars – a solid YA contemporary debut!
Review: While I wouldn’t entirely compare this to “Speak”, I can see why the comparison is being made. “Smashed” is a pretty powerful, raw debut novel that talks about one of the “tough stuff” areas that we don’t see touched upon very often – that of the active downward spiral of becoming an addict. We’ve seen YA contemp deal with teens whose parents that are addicts, or where teens are in rehab for addiction (the latter seems to be the rarer of the two), but not the actual process of the teen falling into addiction. Props to Luedeke for showing us the ugly reality of how easy it can be to become an addict, but doing it in such an easily emotionally connectable way.
I wouldn’t say “Smashed” is as brutal as “Speak” – not by a mile. I feel like Luedeke kind of stayed her hand here, and that makes this a good book for readers that may be on the younger end of the YA spectrum. On the other hand, it did make for a few confusing scenes (the rape scene, for example – while nowhere near graphic, it did get confusing it until it’s over and we see the aftermath). While I was glad that I didn’t have to experience certain scenes so strongly, at the same time, I did want a bit more clarity so I wouldn’t be so entirely vague about what just happened. There’s also the pacing – there were places were it dragged, and I wish it hadn’t, because my focus did start to wander a bit and the ending was just a bit too abrupt for me. But as this is Luedeke’s debut, I can understand how all of that happened.
Nitpicking aside, the world that Luedeke builds is extremely real, as are her characters and their situations. While at first it seemed a bit far-fetched that Katie would become an addict so quickly, after doing a little research between chapters, it can be that quick if you have the right set of conditions – stress and genetic predisposition among them. The world is shrunk to small-town Maine, thus giving us the right conditions to really strangle Katie and make her desperate for comfort when she needs it. As I’ve said before about worldbuilding in YA contemporary – yes, it is in fact needed and Luedeke has done a great job here. Nothing in Luedeke’s world made me arch an eyebrow as it did seem all very plausible.
Another thing Luedeke is great at – killing her darlings. She really puts Katie (and to a lesser degree, deliciously slimy Alec) through the ringer to achieve the appropriate emotional payoff. A negligent parent, feeling trapped in a small town, summer boredom all make for a potent stew and the perfect kindling for the fire set by addiction. While Katie’s downward spiral was painful to read, at the same time, I was glad it hurt – it should hurt to read. Had it not hurt, Luedeke wouldn’t have done her job as an author in terms of making her MC emotionally relatable and sympathetic.
Alec was wonderfully awful – very Jekyll and Hyde, as some other reviewers have mentioned. Which is the real Alec? The sweet guy mowing her lawn because he can? Or the guy threatening blackmail about that one drunk night on the road? Even though I eventually kind of saw how that was going to end in terms of who he really was, I did enjoy the twists and turns that happened on the way to that discovery.
Final verdict? If you’re a fan of YA contemp that doesn’t hold back, you definitely need to read “Smashed”. It’s out August 28th from Margaret K. McElderry/Simon & Schuster in North America, so be sure to check it out then!