HEROINE by MINDY MCGINNIS (2019)
A REVIEW by ALEXA DUNCAN
I’ve reviewed a Mindy McGinnis book before. That book was This Darkness Mine, and I read it around October of last year. Since then, TDM has kept its place as one of the most bizarre books I have ever read. It was dark and twisty and weird and I couldn’t stop thinking about it even days after I’d finished. Heroine is no exception. It’s even darker than TDM. Less weird, but grittier and incredibly affecting. Heroine is a necessary novel, establishing McGinnis’s place among YA’s best contemporary authors. Before I really delve into this review, I want to warn you, reader, that Heroine is an extremely realistic—and therefore graphic—portrayal of drug addiction, specifically heroin and OxyContin. If you have struggled with drugs in the past or are still struggling with them, I would not recommend reading this review or this book until you are in a positon to better handle the material.
Heroine follows our main character, Mickey Catalan, in her senior year of high school as she plays softball, hangs out with her friends, and falls deeper and deeper into her addiction to opioids. That’s how casually Mickey’s addiction starts. Yes, a terrible car accident happens at the very beginning of the book that puts opioids in her path to begin with, but she never planned to get addicted to them. No one ever plans to be an addict, and no one would ever think a straight-laced softball star like Mickey would be one, either. So begins McGinnis’s haunting narrative of one seemingly “normal” teenager’s spiral into drug use.
All Mickey wants to do is recover from her car accident in time to play softball. Her entire future relies on softball. If she can’t play softball, she has no future, so to cope with her broken hip and manage the excruciating pain it saddles her with, Mickey decides to take a little more OxyContin than what is prescribed to her. And then she takes more. And then she takes even more. Soon, Mickey can’t help but rely on the drug, and even befriends a sweet older woman who is actually a dealer. Mickey’s best friend, Carolina, was in the crash as well, but her journey to recovery is much different than Mickey’s, showing how easily addiction can take over one person’s life while completely missing another’s.
Synopsis aside, Heroine is a powerful narrative of what happens when someone falls into the throes of addiction. Mickey isn’t the sort of addict one might think of when one thinks of addicts. The book plays into her perception of herself very well, to the point where Mickey is in denial about her own condition until the very last few pages of the novel. She never thinks that she could possibly be an addict. Not her. She’s too “normal.” Too “in control.” After all, she’s only taking the Oxy until she can get back on her feet and play softball again. Until she starts shooting heroin into her veins. Until she can’t go more than a few hours without drugs in her system.
Heroine is a truly terrifying read, because you know from the very beginning what’s going to happen to Mickey. You know from the moment she takes that first pill that she’s going to become addicted to it. You know she’s going to graduate to heroin and you know her life is about to get very dark and very difficult. Heroine never lets up, and it’s never an easy read. I wouldn’t say I enjoyed it, necessarily, what with the graphic descriptions of drug use and Mickey’s bowel movements, but I certainly appreciated it. The writing is wonderful, per McGinnis’s usual, and Mickey is a fascinating character who can’t be fit into any one box. The supporting characters are fine as well, but Heroine is truly Mickey’s story. A story of addiction, peril, pain, and ultimately, triumph. It’s not an easy read, but a necessary one. Pick up our copy at the Oreana Library today.