Monday, April 27, 2009

Dopesick Review

Dopesick by Walter Dean Myers


Lil J is in more trouble than he can handle when a drug deal with his associate Rico goes wrong and before he knows it, he's running for his life after Rico shoots the cop. Shot in the arm, tired and scared, Lil J ducks into an abandoned crackhouse looking for sanctuary. What he finds is a young man named Kelly with a TV and a remote that can show Lil J his past, present and future. Lil J begins to tell Kelly his story as they wait for night to pass and Kelly keeps pushing Lil J asking, why why why?

The novel is a conversation, it's a moment, it's a time machine, it's a lot of different things happening all at once connected by sparse prose, true-to-life speech that becomes it's own kind of poetry.

Dopesick basically occurs over one night but it is not about one night, it's about a lifetime, many lifetimes and the choices we make based on our situation, our beliefs and the reality of the community around us and how it shapes our lives. There is also an underlying theme of personal responsibility and how Lil J ended up in this place is a result of his own actions and choices.

Lil J is 17 and his life has been hard. He's poor, his mom is always drunk and sick, his dad is gone, his baby mama's mother won't let him see his own son, the schools gave up on him and along with being dopesick he is broke-sick. Lil J knows that more money can break this cycle so he's always hustling, looking for a job, or trying to look except when the drugs get in the way and other distractions take him down. The problem is Lil J may be more of a user than he's willing to admit.

This is a gritty look at the life of some teenagers and it could be anywhere, not just Harlem. What I liked about this book was that it focused on Lil J but it was also a meta-view about how beliefs just ingrained inside of you can lead you to make the decisions you make. The belief that you were born to be a certain way or maybe a self-fulfilling prophecy, how this can lead to a slippery slope into a life you never meant to have. That was the universal message for me, that could apply to anyone's situation.

Kelly is the secondary character in this story, someone we never really get to know. I had my theories about him but they never quite panned out and the ending just left me more intrigued about what was really going on. Kelly pushes Lil J to answer the real questions, to look deep inside of himself and just talk to find the right solution. Unfortunately in this book there are no easy answers and I found myself asking questions right until the end. Everything that happens is open to interpretation. I have my own thoughts but I don't want to spoil you more than I already have.

For all of the drug use, the violence and the other adult aspects of Lil J's life the book is surprisingly clean. I don't remember any really bad words and nothing is described in a graphic way (which is why I'm still trying to imagine what "skin-popping" is like).

I looked at the book jacket cover about halfway through the book (because when it's Walter Dean Myers you don't really have to know what it's about before you pick it up!) and it says, "Walter Dean Myers weaves elements of magical realism into a harrowing story about drug use, violence, alternate perceptions of reality, and second chances."

What struck me about that sentence was magical realism, which is an element of literature that's very interesting to me. Wikipedia says, "Magic realism, or magical realism, is an artistic genre in which magical elements or illogical scenarios appear in an otherwise realistic or even "normal" setting."

The magical realism in this book is very subtle but the great thing about magical realism is that you don't think twice about whatever that "magical" component may be because the world of the story just accepts it so you do too. I think this was achieved in Dopesick.

Now this book may not be everyone's cup of tea. It's not full of action or plot or descriptions or things like that but it's a reflection of Lil J's life, of your life, of the life of people you may never know or someone who lives right down the block. It's a quick read but it will stay with you and keep you thinking about Lil J's life and your own life and the choices you make.

Highly recommended. For something different you need to give this a try.


  1. Hey, i read the book half way and i would like to know how this is related to drugs. Im doing this project and i need to know how it is related? Thanks.

  2. this book rockzzzzzz :)ily