I just decided that life was like a farmer standing in a field and a kid racing down the road on a Kawasaki, arguing about whether the fence posts are rushing by or standing still. Each thinking the other is crazy or blind or both, neither willing to give up until the other sees the light.
I decided to read The Year of My Miraculous Reappearance by Catherine Ryan Hyde because it’s about an alcoholic teenager who actually goes to Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) meetings. A lot of books mention teen drinking, but few that I’ve read talk about treatment. Or, if they do, they don’t name the treatment program. So I was particularly interested in a kid who goes to AA and not just “rehab” (not that there’s anything wrong with rehab, of course).
Brief summary, avoiding major spoilers: Thirteen-year-old Cynnie has an alcoholic mom. She hates that her mom drinks and doesn’t take care of Cynnie or her little brother, Bill, who has Down’s Syndrome. One day, the pain gets to be too much for Cynnie and she does what her mom does when the pain is too much: she has a beer. And it’s all downhill from there. Cynnie is then forced to attend AA meetings after getting into a lot of trouble.
When I first started this book, I didn’t think I was going to like it. I found the writing too simplistic, and Cynnie is a really young thirteen. However, I realized that (a) all 13-year-olds do not talk and think like my daughter and (b) part of Cynthia’s character is that she avoids thinking a lot. She doesn’t really read or care that much about school. She just hangs out with a couple of the neighborhood boys and tries to avoid her mom.
I don’t mean to imply that Cynnie isn’t intelligent or that she doesn’t think deeply about things because that’s not true. The quote I pulled about the fence posts is from early in the book, for example. She thinks a lot; she just doesn’t use a lot of complex language to do so. Her voice is also pretty immediate, and I could imagine a 13-year-old kid telling a story the way she does: “I did this and this. My mom did that. I was mad so I did this. Then I went to my room and threw things,” etc. I mean, if a kid isn’t trying to feel her feelings, she’s not going to have a whole lot to say about them.
But that’s a big reason of why I didn’t think the book would have staying power. I was wary that the author was going to keep things simple and kind of on the surface.
And then Cynnie starts drinking. And I was just so worried about her, and I wanted her to not drink and find another way and to get help. And I had to keep reading to see what was going to happen to her and to make sure she was going to be okay. Because she’s just a kid who got caught up drinking and is in pain and needs help. And she’s so sad and I don’t want her to be sad.
And then! Then she has to go to AA and I’m hopeful! But it’s not easy for her, and I want to see how she pulls through and if she commits to sobriety and overcomes her struggles with sobriety. Also, I want her to believe in herself the way that I do.
So I kept reading, and I was invested in the narrative–not just how the author was going to portray a teen alcoholic in a treatment program.
As for how AA is handled, I think the program is presented in a straightforward and accessible way. Hyde doesn’t do any info dumps or long drawn out exposition of how the program works. Everything is presented through Cynnie’s experience in and with the program. Sometimes she asks questions, sometimes she explains something she’s learned, but the story is never preachy and never says AA is something any one person has to do. Hyde just shows how this character experiences AA and how it affects her life. AA is also not presented as some magic cure-all. Sobriety takes work, and the narrative shows how difficult maintaining sobriety can be, no matter how far along in the program someone is.
I know I spent a lot of time talking about Cynnie and AA, but that’s because most of the story focuses on those two things. The other characters that populate the narrative are not given that much page time, but they’re all fully realized and memorable. I understand the relationships and motivations of all of them.
I think this book would be good for teens who know someone who attends AA or who may need AA themselves because it really demystifies how the whole thing works and isn’t preachy or didactic at all.
My only complaint is that there’s no mention of Al-Anon or Alateen made at all. Even one line saying when she’s ready, Cynnie might want to consider Al-Anon/Alateen since her mom is an alcoholic would have been nice.