When an author says a book she’s written is the Book of Her Heart, what does that mean? In this completely irregular ongoing blog series, I’ve invited guest authors to reveal what they consider the Book of Their Heart—and share why this book holds a distinct and special place apart from all others they’ve written.
Here, to help celebrate her book birthday for her new edgy, contemporary YA novel Damaged, I have Amy Reed opening up for the first time about the book of her heart…
Guest post by Amy Reed
All of my five books have a piece of my heart in them. My new book, DAMAGED, will always be special to me because I was in my first trimester of pregnancy when my husband and I embarked on the cross-country road trip that would serve as the basis of the story. I battled a combination of morning sickness, carsickness, and weird food aversions (including water), all for the sake of art. My daughter was with me, the size of a blueberry, as the story of DAMAGED was born.
But I think the true books of my heart will always be my most autobiographical. BEAUTIFUL is by far the most autobiographical of my books, based on my experience moving from a rural island to a suburb of Seattle in seventh grade, experiences I’ve been very open about in the past. I’ve been less open about CLEAN. It is also very much autobiographical, but I’ve remained vague in interviews about how close I was to the story. After publishing five books, maybe it’s time to open up about why CLEAN is the book of my heart.
CLEAN is based on my own experience in rehab when I was sixteen. I wrote it during my first year of sobriety after my second rehab, at age twenty-nine. I am now over five years sober and the happiest I’ve ever been, and I think my recovery plays a huge part in all of my novels since. I started drinking and using in much the same way as Cassie in BEAUTIFUL—I was thirteen, lonely, terrified, and I wanted to be cool. I fell in with a group of “friends” who were unlike anyone I had ever met, and I did whatever I thought I had to do in order to fit in. I had no foundation of self-esteem to help me say no, or to even ask myself what I actually wanted. I was addicted from the very beginning. I didn’t get high for fun like everyone else. I did it because I had to. It was the only way to keep myself from feeling all the horrible feelings that kept piling on the more I went in the wrong direction and the more I kept hurting myself.
By the time I was sixteen, I was exhausted and battling depression in addition to my drug abuse. I finally asked my mom for help, and after an evaluation, it was decided that month-long in-patient treatment would be the help I needed. I remember being scared, but more than anything, I remember feeling relieved. It felt good to let go of that secret, to ask for help, to stop trying to do everything on my own.
I learned a lot in rehab and I was clean for over a year afterwards, but I didn’t stay sober. To me, sobriety means much more than just being free from drugs and alcohol; it requires a whole shift in thinking, it requires growth and change and constant active effort to repair broken behavior and thought patterns. I did none of this. I was doing everything the same as before, just without drugs and alcohol. All the feelings I had been pushing away came back with a vengeance, and I was without the only tools I ever had to deal with them, and I wasn’t learning any new tools. I was miserable.
I relapsed shortly after high school graduation, and the next decade of my life was spent riding the downward spiral of addiction and alcoholism. I had gotten into the college of my dreams, but I dropped out just weeks before the end of sophomore year because of depression and an out of control cocaine problem that stole my soul. When I moved to San Francisco at age twenty, that’s when my drinking really took off, and I spent the next several years just barely getting by. Fortunately, I think some part of rehab stuck with me through these dark times, and I’d manage to pull myself out of serious trouble before it got too bad. But I’d always inevitably fall back into it again.
By the time I was in my late-twenties, I was exhausted. I decided to get help. Again, the feeling of relief that I didn’t have to do it alone. This time, I was serious about getting sober. I had too much to lose—a husband, a career, a home. This time, I knew I was going to have to change everything if I wanted to keep anything.
And so, CLEAN was born. I was able to access the raw vulnerability of the characters because I was going through the same things they were. I think of the main female characters—Eva, Kelly, and Olivia—as three parts of myself as a teenager, and it was healing to get in touch with them. I was Eva, the depressed poet misfit. I was Kelly, the pretty girl who didn’t know how to say no. I was Olivia, the perfectionist. In writing their stories, I got to let them go.
So now, five years and four novels later, I have a life beyond my wildest dreams. I am wife to an amazing partner who inspired me with his love to become a better person. I am mother to the most astonishing 18-month old girl who teaches me new ways to love and laugh every day. She has never seen me drunk or high, and hopefully she never will. I am blessed to be able to do what I love for my profession, to write books and reach teens who are a lot like I was, lost and scared but full of heart. I get the most amazing letters and emails from readers who are going through similar things as my characters, and I feel so incredibly honored to help them feel less alone, to inspire them to get help. Everything I have in my life now is a result of my getting sober and changing my life. It is an honor and privilege to share it with you all, and I am forever grateful.
Amy Reed is the author of the edgy, contemporary YA novels BEAUTIFUL, CLEAN, CRAZY, and OVER YOU. Her new book DAMAGED released yesterday, October 14, 2014.
Find out more at www.amyreedfiction.com.
Thank you, Amy, for sharing the Book of Your Heart with my readers. Happy Book Birthday to Damaged, which is now on sale as of yesterday… everyone, go grab it!
The posts in the Book of Your Heart series:
- The Book of Your Heart Series: Camille DeAngelis
- The Book of Your Heart Series: Tessa Gratton
- The Book of Your Heart Series: Brandy Colbert
- The Book of Your Heart Series: Dahlia Adler
- The Book of Your Heart Series: Corey Ann Haydu
- The Book of Your Heart Series: Justina Chen
- The Book of Your Heart Series: Andrea Hannah
- And about my own Book of My Heart: Imaginary Girls