Kara hasn’t been back to Oak Park since the end of junior year, when a heroin overdose nearly killed her and sirens heralded her exit. Four years later, she returns to face the music. Her life changed forever back in high school: her family disintegrated, she ran around with a whole new crowd of friends, she partied a little too hard, and she fell in love with gorgeous bad-boy Adrian, who left her to die that day in Scoville Park….
Amid the music, the booze, the drugs, and the drama, her friends filled a notebook with heartbreakingly honest confessions of the moments that defined and shattered their young lives. Now, finally, Kara is ready to write her own.
The blurb featured above doesn’t even come close to doing Ballads of Suburbia justice. This is not your regular dose of girl-meets-bad boy-but-finds-her-way-back-to-the-right-side-of-the-tracks kind of YA fiction. There is nothing censored, dusted over, or left out of this novel. I’m not even really sure you could classify this one as YA. Having said that, I think its something all angsty teens should read, and not because it has a ‘drugs are bad’ message, although it does, in a round about kind of way. Mostly, because it’s so real and I reckon there is a whole bunch of teens wandering around suburbs just like Oak Park, feeling just like Kara does, thinking there’s no escape. Ballads is a tale about choices and how those choices can affect us for the rest of our days.
Kara’s decent into darkness essentially starts when her parents split up. They moved to the suburbs so they could live out their happy all-American fantasy of being a perfect family, only it didn’t quite work out that way. Not even close.
Kara is hurting and she’s looking for someone, something to make it all stop. Her quest takes her to fairly innocent places at first. Alcohol, cigarettes, a bit of pot. And it works, for a while, but soon enough, the pain starts to push through the mask and she knows she’s going to need something new.
Enter Adrian. Who needs drugs when you’ve got Adrian? He’s sexy, badass, and he likes Kara. No one has ever liked her before, not in that way. Who wouldn’t be pulled in by his trance? Before long, though, it becomes obvious that Adrian is bad news. He’s into hard drugs and he’s unapologetic about it. Soon the high of being around him isn’t enough either, and Kara jumps on the junkie wagon.
What I loved about Ballads is that the narrative does not, in any way, lay blame on Adrian for Kara’s drug use. Although she goes through some seriously messed stuff, Kara makes a choice, a whole bunch of them actually, and the narrative recognises that the reason Kara becomes addicted to heroine is because she allowed herself to. She didn’t need Adrian’s influence – hell some could argue that he didn’t ever actually influence her to use, but he certainly never tried to stop her – her pain and despair was so great that if she hadn’t gotten it from Adrian, I’m certain she would have found it elsewhere.
Kara’s problems essentially started at home, though I don’t entirely believe its fair to blame her problems on her parents, either. For me, it seemed that Kara is the kind of girl that was always going to at least dabble in illicit substances. Would she have taken it to such extremes if her family life had been more stable? Who knows. It’s impossible to say, but there are plenty of kids from well adjusted families that end up as heroine junkies. For some, I think it comes from within. Ballads acknowledges this and lays it all out on the table, judgment free. I bet that every single person will take something different from this novel, and that’s why I think everyone should read it.
This one comes with one hell of a warning folks. If you’re looking for something warm and fuzzy, don’t read this book. If you’re looking for a teen romance that takes a walk on the wild side, don’t read this book. If you’re looking for something that ends up all good and well in the end, then don’t read this book. If what you’re looking for is a real life read that will break your heart, fill your eyes with tears, and force you to face the hard questions head on, then this is absolutely, most definitely the book for you. If you’re looking for a book with complex and deep characters, then this is the book for you. If you’re looking for a read that will keep you thinking long after you finish the last word, then Ballads of Suburbia is a must-read for you.
Kara’s tale is a raw, hard-hitting lesson on just how much guts it takes to fight your way from the dark side into the light. Stephanie Kuehnert’s effortless prose and outstanding imagery will leave you standing front and center, right in the middle of all Kara’s chaos.
Be prepared to have your beating heart ripped right out of your chest.
P.S – If you’ve never known someone that’s affected by drugs the way Kara and some of her friends in this book are, I hope that you can look upon her story in a non-judging way. And if you, or someone you love has been kissed by drugs, then I hope you can take something of Kara with you into your days. Her story is more than just a fictional tale.