Everything’s Not Fine

Turner. May 2020. 304p. pap. $15.99. ISBN 9781684424108.
Gr 8 Up–Seventeen-year-old Rose’s dreams of escaping her small Wisconsin town and winning a place at a prestigious art school take a vicious hit when she comes home on the evening before the start of senior year to find her mother passed out and bloody on the floor in the throes of a heroin overdose. Life instantly becomes a desperate juggling act as the need to care for three younger siblings and create a semblance of normalcy to keep the Child Protection Bureau from splitting up the family conflict with the demands of school, her part-time job, and futile attempts to keep the episode secret. Subject to alternating fits of smoldering anger and tearful meltdowns, Rose makes a compelling narrator. Both vulnerable and strong, loving her siblings fiercely and her parents, too, she projects the very image of a withdrawn and hostile teen to the outside world while viewing that world with a painter’s eye for subtle colors and textures. Carlson gives her sturdy allies, notably a social worker who frankly explains what an addicted parent can expect from the justice system and underfunded social services, and Rafa, a hunky new classmate who turns out to be not only a kindred artistic spirit but a loyal, fundamentally decent sort who, by the not exactly sunny but brightening end, has moved beyond friendship to something more.
VERDICT Along with the relatively uncommon theme of living with an addicted parent, this emotionally intense tale offers middle school and older readers an engaging picture of two teens circling and closing as they discover common ground.

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