Sloan, Maya. High Before Homeroom. Gallery Books, 2010. ISBN 978-1439171295 299 pp. $19.99
This darkly comic tale is about a 16-year old “loser” who decides he wants to become a meth addict to win the heart of his hot but jaded mall colleague who only dates bad boys. Other advantageous side effects potentially include Doug’s mom paying attention to him for a change, instead of obsessing over care packages to send to his golden boy brother Trevor, whom Doug can never quite measure up to, currently serving in Iraq; raised social standing at school, and even an improved physique from working out at the rehab center. Doug’s thoroughly researched meth addiction and intends to take good care of himself even through the worst of it, stocking up on vitamins and extra flouridated toothpaste in advance. The best laid plans often go awry, however; and that’s the case here.
High Before Homeroom could have/should have been published as YA; I suspect it was pushed to the adult market because of what I assume to be a frighteningly realistic portrayal of just how many times a day teenage boys think about sex. The drug addiction, foul language, and several incidents of violence are might have also given the publisher pause.
While part of my distaste for the book might be personal bias at the idea of someone deliberating deciding to become an addict, when addiction is driven by environment, heredity, and biology, I think it’s a flawed piece of work, albeit one with high teen appeal.
I found the characterizations very one-note: Mom’s a zombie, Trevor is the perfect brother, Angela (a girl Doug meets at a club) is a cookie cutter rebellious Christian girl. Doug’s diatribe of self-loathing, desire to lose his virginity, and dislike of school/job/life goes from edgy and raw to downright whiny. The only standout is his best friend, who owns an empire in the virtual world of Second Life, has kinky cybersex with another avatar, and shows up to rescue Doug after a night out partying wearing flannel pajamas sent to him by his grandmother. Any character growth is a simple 180. In real life, people are not this black and white.
Doug is obsessed with Kerouac’s On The Road, and shares enough about the book that readers unfamiliar with the allusion will see how Doug’s own goals, and subsequent journey, relate to the plot. Defining the social strata of a midwestern high school by the posters that hang on schoolmate’s bedroom walls is clever, but the cliques having changed much since Ponyboy Curtis define the Socs and Greasers back in 1967. Another cliche: the high school guidance counselor stops Doug to ask about his plans for college (because he is, actually, a really smart kid, in spite of his neuroses and unforgiving peers) and follows up the conversation by asking about Trevor. Later, Doug wonders what makes people aspire to be guidance counselors–this was a throwback to Rats Saw God, for me.
There were some amusing moments, like when Doug can’t even get high on the meth, the first time, and just throws up all over his bedroom, and then decides not to clean it up, because that’s what a real addict would do, and later, when he claims he’s going to become a meth addict “if it kills him.” I found a lot of the writing to be over the top with gritty edgy detail, especially in an early scene where Doug is standing out in the cold by the dumpster at the mall, on a smoke break with Laurilee, the object of his affection, and later, when he is out at a club and discovering this new Doug, who drinks his meth dissolved in coffee laced with a 5 spoonfuls of sugar, is the kind of guy who grinds against girls he doesn’t know.
In the midst of all the breakneck paced angst, is a long drawn out scene where Doug, on his mission to score drugs, goes straight to one of Trevor’s peers, a college dropout who takes him to a meth lab. I put the book down around page 100 because I didn’t care about Mitch–I just wanted Doug to get to the meth lab! Mitch makes a number of unsavory confessions and charges Doug four times what the drugs are worth. I did pick it back up again, and read to the end, because the teaser on the blurb is that Trevor returns from overseas, and has a dark secret all his own. The big reveal is not such a shock, and the stupidity that follows is the opportunity for a shiny happy ending. And, I’m just going to put this out there, it’s extremely unrealistic for someone to get to step 8 so fast.