Daniel is a teenage drug dealer on his way to jail. But suddenly he is granted a reprieve – he is taken to a facility purpose built to treat people like him. When he enters into The Contract with Dr. J and starts taking classes with the enigmatic Helen and smart PW Daniel’s emotional thresholds are going to change. But the story is narrated by the older and more worldly Daniel who knows just how things will play out.
I requested this novel because it reminded me of another that I had read with a similar concept – delinquents taken to a bush setting and let loose to sort themselves out. But this novel is nothing like that. Daniel is guided without having known he was guided, and treated without having really known what was wrong. His search for a descriptor of what is wrong with him seems futile when his friendships are changing him.
I loved how the author was able to get inside the teenage boy mind and draw out a painful expose of what growing up looks like, without having to rely on the traditional narrative of high school and families. By putting her ‘vulnerable’ characters in a courtyard with pear trees Hopkins makes the characters, not the setting, the core of the story. We know that the teenagers must be some sort of program, but we don’t work out until the very end what it actually means. The author really crafted this carefully until the ending just sprang on me.
Over-prescription of medication, and diagnosing young children with mood and mental disorders is a growing problem. Ritalin seems to be the magic bullet against children who can’t sit still. Instead of talking about the problem we can throw drugs at it to fix it. As someone who takes daily medication to keep myself sane and sociable, I fully admit that psychoactive drugs have their places in society. But I agree with this novel’s ultimate offering in that we should be careful who we trust to do the right thing (and who benefits from it financially).
I can’t recommend this novel, but I’m not sure why not. This novel left me with a very strange feeling in my mouth. In fact, it reminded me a lot of ‘Some Tests’, a novel I never finished reviewing because it was too weird to even keep reading. I’m trying to think of who might enjoy this novel, as I’m certain that someone, somewhere would enjoy it. It is quite brilliantly written, even if the style didn’t suit me.
Text Publishing | 4th June 2019 | AU$29.99 | paperback