I should probably start by saying that this is more of a “Hopeful Expectations” review because I didn’t have great expectations upon discovering today’s book, but rather hopes that it would be an unusual piece of writing in the YA genre. Happily, I can say that my expectations were mostly met – hooray!
So what is today’s book? Tripping Back Blue by Kara Storti, which we gratefully received from Walker Books Australia for review. Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:
Finn is a 17-year-old full of paradoxes. He’s a drug dealer, but he’s scoring money to send his twin sister to Harvard. He’s desperate to shoot up even though he’s the most popular kid in Dammertown. He’s a philosopher and orator who’s failing all his classes. The only time he finds peace is when he’s bird-watching. Finn’s life begins to spiral out of control, until he discovers a miracle drug called indigo. Finn is convinced that the drug is the way out of everything broken in his life. But is it really as magical as it seems?
What I Expected:
Initially, before reading some reviews of this one, I expected a typical “teenager-struggling-with-drugs-story” that happened to have an extremely pretty cover. On reading a few reviews and finding out that the drug causes users to relive their happiest memories, AND that one of the major characters is an old lady who eventually befriends Finn, I began to get interested. With these two tidbits of information in hand, I began to hope that this book would blend a bit of fantasy or magical realism with the drudgery of drug use and lift an average story to something unusual and enticing.
What I Got:
Overall, I’m happy to say, I got exactly what I expected. Perhaps not to the extent that I would have liked, but certainly the base elements of my expectations were all present. There is an interesting and somewhat volatile relationship between Finn and the old lady, Orah, that drives the indigo plotline. There is plenty of soul-searching (under-the-influence soul-searching, but still…) from Finn as to whether what he is doing is right, wrong or outside the bounds of morality all together. The ending is unexpectedly action packed and violent and carries a real atmosphere of danger and confusion. There were also some interesting twists on the “reliving your happiest memory” device, as the drug doesn’t always work as it is expected to, for Finn at least, as well as an in-depth exploration of human nature, as every character here is flawed in some way and no one is purely evil or pristine.
For the most part, then, I enjoyed this read. I am not a fan of drug use, talk about drug use, deep explorations of the user’s mind etc (either in real life or fiction) and there was a lot more of this in the story than I initially expected. Admittedly, all the reviews I read mentioned this and it’s hinted at in the blurb, so I shouldn’t complain. I was hoping for a little more of the magical realism element around the creation and distribution of indigo, but the story doesn’t suffer particularly for the lack of it. The segues into talk about birds and random animal facts were a diverting inclusion and fleshed Finn’s character out a bit.
Would I read this book again? Probably not. Am I glad I ran across it? Definitely. Is it a standout of the genre? Not really, but it certainly has some original touches that make it worth a look if you enjoy contemporary YA that doesn’t shy away from difficult social issues such as drug use, poverty and family violence. Plus, you might learn something interesting about birds.
Until next time,