Hi there! I’m so excited to share my review for CLEAN, Mia Kerick’s new edgy YA M/M coming of age story. This book is a very tough read, not because it’s written poorly, but because it portrays unflinching stories of sexual abuse, neglect and substance abuse in teens. As with all Ms. Kerick’s books, (THE RED SHEET, HARD DAY’S NIGHT), the characters are well-written and the story is filled with inconvenient truths.
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About the book:
High school senior Lanny Keating has it all. A three-sport athlete at Lauserville High School looking at a college football scholarship, with a supportive family, stellar grades, boy band good looks… until the fateful day when it all falls apart.
Seventeen-year-old Trevor Ladd has always been a publicly declared zero and the high school bad-boy. Abandoned by his mother and sexually abused by his legal guardian, Trevor sets his sights on mere survival.
Lanny seeks out Trevor’s companionship to avoid his shattered home life. Unwilling to share their personal experiences of pain, the boys explore ways to escape, leading them into sexual experimentation, and the abuse of illegal drugs and alcohol. Their mutual suffering creates a lasting bond of friendship and love.
When the time finally comes to get clean and sober, or flunk out of high school, only one of the boys will graduate, while the other spirals downward into addiction.
Will Lanny and Trevor find the strength to battle their demons of mind-altering substances as well as emotional vulnerability?
Clean takes the reader on a gritty trip into the real and raw world of teenage substance abuse.
A little taste (from the Prologue):
Trevor wouldn’t even look at me when I walked over to the gas station this morning to say hi. And Jimmy’s Fuel Stop is like three miles from my house so it took a major effort to walk there, especially since I’ve been feeling like total crap lately. Another one of my shaky human bonds bites the dust. I need to go out and get myself a cat.
“Can’t you see I’m working, Keating?” That was all he said. But I’ve always been good at reading between the lines. I could tell what he was thinking as he stood beside the gas pumps, totally caught up in not looking at me. “Take a hike before you get me fired, loser. Some of us got goals in life….” So I took off before he had a chance to make me feel like I shouldn’t have ever made an appearance on the planet earth. But I still know it would have been better had I never been born…maybe Joelle would still be okay.
It’s Saturday afternoon and nobody’s home. Mom and Dad are probably off at the park with Joelle, sloshing through the wet snow together so she gets her daily exercise. Or maybe they took her to the make- your-own-sundae-place to improve her fine motor skills by sprinkling sweet toppings on big scoops of ice cream. I’m in Mom and Dad’s bathroom, bent in half with my head stuck in the closet, searching the cluttered shelves for anything that will get me high enough to escape. And I mean anything.
That’s when I see the cough syrup. The bottle in front is almost new, and there’s an older bottle of a different brand right behind it, little more than halfway full. Seeing these medicine bottles reminds me of something Chad suggested about a week or two ago— that we should try robo-tripping. He told me that if we drink enough cough syrup, the DXM in it would get us high in a “super blissful, tingling-body-parts way,” which sounded pretty decent to me then and still does now. Not completely surprised I remembered Chad’s exact description of a DXM high, I thank God for this dextromethorphan stuff that suppresses nasty coughs, because it looks like I’m going to find my much-needed buzz after all.
Pleased that I don’t have to resort to sniffing glue from the tube on my father’s basement workbench or huffing my mother’s hairspray—and believe me I came close—I snatch the bottles with a shaky hand. They’re both sticky with the syrup that dripped down the side last time one of the Keating’s had a major head cold accompanied by a hacking cough. Licking my fingers provides me with a hint of the cherry flavor I’m probably going to be barfing up later tonight. But I don’t care. I can’t get through a single day without some help, and by that I don’t mean help from my human friends, seeing as I have none left.
The walk to the shed seems longer than ever. It’s an effort to so much as put one foot in front of the other. I haven’t eaten anything for a full day; I’m sure that’s why I feel like such crap. And it’s not like I want to think about this stuff, but I can’t stop myself. The “stuff” I don’t want to think about is really people. The people I have hurt so much lately because of my bad habits.
This list starts with my little sister Joelle, who I told to “stuff a sock in it” when she asked me to read that goddamned book about a kid going to school—for the zillionth time! “School’s not all it’s cracked up to be, Jo. Stop being so damned excited about it! Those kids are gonna tear you to pieces and won’t even wait until you turn your back to do it!” It hurts too much to remember the expression on her face right after I told her that, so instead I stare beyond the leafless trees into the gray sky and think about my parents.
I’ve hurt Mom and Dad a lot too, because they know I’m sick, they just don’t know exactly what’s wrong with me. And I’m not sure how much they care. Their plates are too full already with Joelle’s problems, I guess.
I glance down at the two bottles of cough medicine dangling from between my fingers and remember Chrissy and Robyn, who I use like toilet paper. They can do way better than me in the study-buddy department.
I trip over a root that crosses my path and fall to my knees, but just as quickly drag myself back to my feet. A stray root isn’t enough to stop me from getting to where I’m going.
I’m almost at the shed now, and I can’t avoid thinking about him any longer. Trevor hates me. He never calls anymore, never asks me to go to the shed to drink some beer and fool around. He just looks at me in the hallway at school with angry disgusted eyes, and tells me every chance he gets “you’re fucking up your life and I’m not gonna let you fuck up mine.”
Trevor Ladd…the ultimate untouchable. If I could’ve made somebody like him want to be with me, I would’ve surely been able to win my parents back. Well, no such luck. I’m more of a zero to Trevor than I ever was…and Mom and Dad still don’t care.
Blew my entire life sky high. Which is where I’ll be soon, if all goes according to plan. I lift each bottle of sticky sweet cough medicine to my lips and kiss them, one by one.
Just the sight of the tiny, beat-up brown shed fills me with an indescribable sense of relief, probably like the feeling of coming home after years at sea. As soon as I push open the door, I see that Trevor isn’t here and I’m illogically disappointed. But Trevor can’t save me from myself. He did his duty; he tried to get me clean, and he got clean in the process.
Way to go, Trevor.
Alone in a frigid shed in the middle of the woods, I’m more than eager to suck down a couple bottles of cough medicine so I can be somewhere else…someone else. A vision of Landon Keating forms in my mind—not Lanny, the student, or Lanny, the athlete, or Lanny, the son and brother—but the near-future version of me when I’m “simultaneously mellow and stimulated,” if the online experiences I’ve read about taking DXM are accurate. Sad truth is, I’ll take just plain disoriented. Any effect will be fine if it whisks me away.
I drop down to the cold floor and without ceremony open one of the small bottles. The cough medicine goes down more easily than I thought.
Cherry-berry-sweet-thick-burning-soothing- pleasure-pain. It doesn’t take too long.
Itchy as hell…belly’s on fire….
“Read to me, Lanny…read it again!
”Can’t feel my legs at all….
“Wishes don’t wash dishes, son.”
Can’t stop barfing…. So sick….
“Take a hike, Keating—you filthy, no-good, loser boozer-druggie!”
Blew it with Trevor…blew it with everybody.
Can’t breathe…need a breath….
Gonna die here alone.
Landon was a great student and star athlete with everything going for him until his young sister was hit by a car. She survived, but with severe handicaps, and Lanny’s family has become all about Joelle and her care. His overwhelmed and overwrought parents are angry and hostile, and don’t even bother to acknowledge Lanny most days. Lanny and his parents share guilt and blame for the tragedy of Joelle’s accident, and Lanny takes it super hard. He turns to alcohol to hide his pain, and he gets his alcohol from the school bad-boy, Trevor.
Trevor is a burn out. He lives each day in fear, and resignation, of the continuing sexual abuse he’s endured since he was twelve and his mother abandoned him with her friend, Carl. When he can, Trevor seeks oblivion via alcohol and pot. And Lanny, the angel-faced “clean” boy that sometimes lurks in Carl’s gardening shed with him. When they are drunk, it’s easy to seek other releases, and Trevor’s easily able to direct some impersonal (non-penetrative) sex between them.
Lanny feels like Trevor’s the only person in his life who sees him. Trevor’s too afraid to love anyone, and doesn’t believe he’s worthy of love, in any case. That said, he sees how far Lanny is slipping–he’s been kicked off the football team, he’s failing classes and he spends every night getting bombed. Soon they move on to pills, supplied by a mutual friend. Trevor knows his only way out of Carl’s lecherous grasp is death, or cleaning up and graduating high school. He tries to get Lanny to clean out, too, but Lanny’s not having it.
Expect things to get worse. Expect there to be real terror on the pages, especially for Trevor when he discovers just how far gone Lanny is.
This story is a story of redemption. It is an honest and harrowing tale of hitting rock bottom, and surviving. The first half is the descent, and the second half is the rise, and it’s not an easy road on either side. Yet, it was told brilliantly, with Lanny rediscovering himself, and his family becoming a strong and supportive unit again. Lanny does what Trevor can’t–forgive himself. And his recovery is well-defined in the general Twelve Step way. This may be a YA tale, but the truth of it applies to people at all ages and stages.
It is also an M/M tale–a dash of romance. Lanny is definitely attracted to Trevor, and acknowledges that he is gay. Trevor was not sure of his orientation–he’s not attracted to Carl in the least–but he does acknowledge that he’s attracted to Lanny, and feels the most love for him that he has of any of the few people who’ve been in his life. There is some sexuality on the page–most consensual, some abuse. Both are told honestly and without glorification.
Part of Lanny’s recovery is making amends for his use and abuse of Trevor, who is dumbstruck that Lanny feels any need to apologize. Trevor’s been mired in guilt over ever giving Lanny any substances to abuse in the first place. Lanny’s steadfast determination to be a real friend to Trevor, not an escape, allows both boys to come to terms with the ills of their past. I adored how very healthy all of this was, and how it engendered a real and beneficial relationship.
At no point did I feel there was any shortcut or glossing over of the tragedy and healing in this story. I think the writing was excellent, if unconventional. Trevor’s POV pages are especially fraught with his fragmented internal narrative. He’s contrary and cagey, and always looking to defend himself and his emotions by denying them. He’s honest with Lanny about being a liar–having hidden so much of himself, never believing that anyone could (or would) want to help him–that he is dirty, filthy, unlovable and unwholesome because of his abuse. It made for a very poignant counterpoint to Lanny’s squeaky-clean, but detached family.
I always struggle to read books that feature abuse of a minor, because I’m a mom, and I hate that this happens IRL. Reading is my escape from MY everyday problems, in many cases, so I prefer the lighter fare. That said, an intense read like CLEAN serves a very important purpose in highlighting the experiences of people who are very different, and often very troubled. CLEAN is fantastic. I hope that it finds readers who have the courage, like Lanny and Trevor, to be present and be counted. To not give up, and to do the hard work necessary to do better than just survive the experience.
Lanny and Trevor discover that life is hard, but very very worth it.
Interested? You can find CLEAN on Goodreads, and Amazon (US, UK, CA and AU).
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Good luck and keep reading my friends!
About the Author:
Mia Kerick is the mother of four exceptional children—all named after saints—and five nonpedigreed cats—all named after the next best thing to saints, Boston Red Sox players. Her husband of twenty-two years has been told by many that he has the patience of Job, but don’t ask Mia about that, as it is a sensitive subject.
Mia focuses her stories on the emotional growth of troubled young people and their relationships, and she believes that physical intimacy has a place in a love story, but not until it is firmly established as a love story. As a teen, Mia filled spiral-bound notebooks with romantic tales of tortured heroes (most of whom happened to strongly resemble lead vocalists of 1980s big-hair bands) and stuffed them under her mattress for safekeeping. She is thankful to Dreamspinner Press, Harmony Ink Press, and CreateSpace for providing her with alternate places to stash her stories.
Mia is a social liberal and cheers for each and every victory made in the name of human rights, especially marital equality. Her only major regret: never having taken typing or computer class in school, destining her to a life consumed with two-fingered pecking and constant prayer to the Gods of Technology.
Where to find Mia online: Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads.