Why Pearl IS Relevant to Young Adult Fiction

It's true that…
Not everyone's mother is a former rock star turned alcoholic and drug addict.
Not everyone directly experiences domestic violence.
Not everyone has a rich uncle who sends them to boarding school.
Not everyone experiences a whirlwind summer of temptation, peer pressure, and excess.
Not everyone survives their teens. 
But some do. 
Pearl did. 
I did.

Drug and alcohol abuse affects every American whether you live with or personally know an addict. The economic impact in the US alone is estimated to be in the billions. If you're a citizen, pay taxes, or will someday do so, blam! You're impacted. On a larger scale, the global impact involves healthcare for alcohol and drug related diseases, addiction recovery, and car accidents, influencing the cost, quality, and availability of everything from the allocation of funds for healthcare, law enforcement, clinics, correctional institutions, and more. It's a trickle down pernicious issue, and it's very real.


Domestic violence impairs the peaceful and safe world we all long to inhabit. It might not have broken up your family, or sent you to a shelter, but one in four women will experience domestic violence in their lifetimes. I guarantee you know four women. Perhaps you are one. 


None of us are alone, even if we think we are. However, so many of us are all too familiar with the stark emptiness of feeling lonely. It was my goal in writing Pearl to show there are bridges to belonging and connection; I don't mean having a wealthy benefactor or living a paper, fictional life, but we each matter and have the capacity to empower ourselves and each other.


According to a 2014 study, 34.7% of fifteen-year-olds have consumed at least one alcoholic beverage in their lives. Alcohol and drugs are in our communities, and even if we say no, there are plenty of people who don't, which loops me back to my first point about how everyone is affected by drug and alcohol use. Alcoholism and drug addiction doesn't discriminate. It affects people across all economic classes, ethnicities, and ages.
The late celebrity and chef Anthony Bourdain demonstrated this on his show Parts Unknown, confessing his own struggles with addiction and the small New England communities, rife with heroin addiction--a community I'm personally familiar with.
We owe it to each other, to our friends, to our families, and our communities to raise awareness about what to do for those of us at risk of slipping through the cracks and being lost to substance abuse. To those of us left bruised and battered. For the ones who feel like they're on their own with no helping hand. There is a way out. There's hope, even if it's found within the pages of a book. 
When I was growing up, drug and alcohol abuse were part of my everyday life. There was abuse, neglect, homelessness, and a constant state of fear. It left me feeling scared, isolated, and like something was wrong with me—what did I do to deserve this? Why me? Even in my younger years, before I had a name for it, it was acutely heartbreaking. At times, I wished, more than anything for a different life. I dreaded returning home from school, afraid of what I'd find. I'd spend as much time as possible out of the house or within the pages of books.
There was a period of time when I worried that I would turn out exactly like the people in my life who struggled with addiction—all-consumed by scoring the next hit. Penniless, sick, and lost. Willing to do anything, even the ugliest things to get high. There's a blur, a smudge in my personal history when I didn't know if the cycle would be broken. Where would I go? What would I do? Was there a way out?
Looking back, my childhood and all of the experiences that came after made me who I am today, and I wouldn't trade myself for anything, but it didn’t have to be that way. I could still have grown into a strong, independent, and self-aware woman without those influences. It would have been helpful if there had been an exit sooner, someone to understand what I was going through, and to remind me I wasn't alone. However, I also kept the secret for as long as I could to protect those involved, mostly because I didn't know better. I understood what was happening was wrong, but afraid of the consequences if I spoke up. This too is common—children living in fear of the what if
Looking back the consequences are clear: turmoil, pain, and years and years of therapy.
I don't necessarily expect readers who've never had firsthand experience with loved ones abusing drugs and alcohol to fully understand the myriad difficulties faced by the daughters, sons, and family members of an addict (and people with addiction themselves) but I can try
I'll also continue to refute the claim that addiction isn't realistic in teen fiction. If we're being honest, there are few people who haven't in some way been affected by substance abuse whether it's a family member, friend, coworker, or someone in their community who struggles with addiction. Or if they've tried alcohol and drugs and find themselves on a slippery path without a handrail. 
Oftentimes people addicted to drugs are portrayed as derelict losers living in an urban settling and while that is sometimes true, it doesn't always start that way. The alcoholic might live next door. He could be a nurse in a nearby clinic who gets addicted to painkillers. It could be the star athlete at school, smoking marijuana on the weekend. It could be a coworker who can't get through the day without finishing a bottle. 
Addiction and abuse doesn't distinguish between your or me or him or her. It impacts all of us. It's not their problem. His or hers or the government. It's our problem. It's in our homes. Our communities. Across the street and downtown. It's up to us to shine light into the shadows, call each other out, and hold one another's hand.


For those of us for whom it does hit home, it's an emotionally devastating experience. This is why my book PEARL is relevant in the discourse of contemporary young adult fiction. Because there is hope. There is help. And there is love. I promise.
If you're living with domestic violence, addiction, and other forms of abuse there is no need to wait to get help. Various kinds of assistance are available, from talking to a counselor online, on the phone, or in person, to staging an intervention, to getting out of a dangerous situation. 

Making a decision to reach out isn’t necessarily easy; it takes courage and a leap of faith, but I believe that every person’s safety, well-being, and life are worth it. Here are some resources:

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration: SAMHSA (1-800-662-4357) is a federal agency that provides confidential, free, twenty-four-hour-a-day, 365-days-a-year help in English and Spanish for individuals and their families facing mental health and/or substance-use disorders.

Teen Lifeline: 1-800-248-8336, teenlifeline.org.

National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-877-799-7233, thehotline.org.

National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, Inc.: 1-800-622-2255.

Al-Anon and Alateen: Both offer help for people who have, or know someone who has, a drinking problem. 1-800-425-2666.

Kristin Brooks Hope Center: KBHC offers a mental health, depression, suicide help line. 1-800-784-2433, hopeline.com.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255, suicidepreventionlifeline.org.

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