Beneath a Meth Moon – Jacqueline Woodson
I’ve never watched an entire episode of A&E’s ‘Intervention.’ The one time I watched part of an episode, the featured addict was a young girl in her early twenties addicted to crack cocaine. As she sat in a circle with her loved ones, family members or friends broke down as they begged her to quit doing crack and reclaim her life – and the girl either laughed at or, worse, belittled them. I get that’s a defense mechanism on her part, but still…it was just too painful to watch, so I switched stations. Sadly, several friends of mine have either suffered or are still suffering through similar situations as they watch a loved one sacrifice his/her life to drugs. No matter how much you love and will an addict to change, it’s ultimately their choice and their choice only – and some never make it.
In Jacqueline Woodson’s heart-wrenching Beneath a Meth Moon, fifteen-year-old Laurel Daneau is in the grips of an addiction to meth – or the moon, as she calls it. Goodness knows she has reason to have turned to drugs, since the poor thing lost her mother and grandmother to a flood in Mississsippi. Laurel, her father and baby brother, Jesse Jr., had evacuated their port town when authorities warned about the impending threat of flooding, but her grandmother didn’t want to leave behind her home. Laurel’s mom offered to stay behind with her, and the two promised to go to the nearby WalMart should the situation get serious. Well, even mighty WalMart couldn’t fight the flooding once it hit and, like that, Mother Nature took away the two most important mothers in Laurel’s life.
Laurel and her remaining family settle in another Mississippi town, and Laurel makes quick friends with a cheerleader named Kaylee. Kaylee encourages Laurel to try out for cheerleading, and not only does she make the squad, but she catches the eye of the co-captain of the basketball team, T-Boom – annnnnd, that’s who introduces Laurel to the devil dust. Enamored of T-Boom and still reeling from the loss of her mother and grandmother, when T-Boom pulls out a little plastic bag full of a white powder and gets her to take a sniff – that’s literally all it takes. One sniff and Laurel is hooked on the euphoric feeling the moon brings – no insecurities about her relationship with T-Boom, no sadness over her family’s loss, just rainbows and sunshine and good times as long as her high lasts. But as with all drugs, the highs never last and before long, you can end up sacrificing your life and all those that you love to chase those highs.
Within that one school year, Laurel goes from a being beautiful, blonde, honor roll cheerleader to a skin-and-bones, yellowed teeth, scraggily haired, scab-covered, meth head living on the streets begging for change for her next high. Her father didn’t want her to leave home, but her constant lying and stealing to support her drug habit, and the risk she posed to her little brother forces his hand – get help or get out. Laurel gets out. On the street, she meets another kid, Moses, who knows a little about the moon himself – at age five, he lost his mother to meth, so he now paints murals around town of other young people who have lost their lives to drugs, their smiling faces both a comfort and a curse to the families who lost them too soon. Moses warns Laurel she will be next if she doesn’t stop and get help.
If you’ve read any of Woodson’s other books (Miracle’s Boys and After Tupac and D Foster, to name a few), then you know Woodson doesn’t go for big dramatic scenes – it’s the small, subtle snatches of conversations and memories that tell her characters’ stories. She doesn’t even tell Laurel’s descent into drug hell in a linear fashion; instead, we jump around from her talks with Moses about the people in the murals he paints, to recollections of her childhood spent talking with her grandmother about her love for writing, to scenes of Laurel escaping out of rehab to go to the nearest drug den for ‘just one more’ hit of the moon. Undoubtedly, the saddest passages are the ones of her daddy wishing ‘to get his little girl back’ and her brother wondering what’s happened to his sister. Keep some Kleenex handy!
Jacqueline Woodson is a prolific writer who has written young adult, middle grade, and picture books – and her website it bang-up! There, you’ll find lots of information about all her books along with teacher or book club guides, if interested. You can visit her website at http://www.jacquelinewoodson.com/index.shtml .