Published in April 2018 by Quercus Children’s Books / 400 pages
Opening sentence: “Face-down on leather.”
This was a book I’d heard good things about, but didn’t actually know much about. For some reason I thought it was a biography, then picked it up and discovered it’s fiction and actually published as YA, despite its gritty subject matter.
Clean tells the story of 17-year old London socialite Lexi Volkov. Heiress to her dad’s luxury hotel chain, she is a rich, privileged girl who develops a drug addiction. After an almost-overdose, her brother, Nikoli, sends her (against her will) to a v. fancy rehab clinic on a private island that Lexi so eloquently describes as, ‘Alcatraz with a spa.’
Narrated by Lexi, I loved her knowing, dry tone (‘I always sort of aspired to a coke problem as I turned thirty, but never this’) and the book is peppered with captivating sentences that are a delight to read: ‘They’re so silently in love it’s noisy.’ She is a character that is not relatable to many, but that doesn’t mean she’s not likeable. She’s broken and fragile despite her arrogant exterior, so you care for her and want her to beat her demons.
It’s aimed at a YA audience, but Clean doesn’t shy away from the realities of drug addiction. There are some pretty graphic descriptions of heroin withdrawal (‘I’m going to burst like a sausage. My skin’s going to split open and my bloated organs will slither out like eels‘) and it covers other types of addiction too, such as eating disorders and OCD, giving a sympathetic but stark view on the realities of these mental health issues.
It balances the dark plot line it explores with a moral message, through Lexi’s therapy at rehab, we learn why she used drugs and see that they are only ever used to mask other issues. What could be a schmaltzy ‘how I found myself’ story is actually far more sophisticated than that. It is a warning tale, a hopeful tale and just a cracking tale that I really enjoyed reading. I found myself thinking about Lexi on her rehab island through the day, always eager to go back and see what happens next. Clean is a compulsive, brilliant read that’s every bit as addictive as its subject matter.