Review: Clean by Juno Dawson
‘I sigh. it’s all so improbable. How can I be ‘an addict’? I’m seventeen years old. I always sort of aspired to a coke problem as I turned thirty, but never this.’
Lexi Volkov is in rehab, and she’s not fucking happy about it. Just because she turned a little bit blue after taking some heroin doesn’t mean she needs help, and she hates Nikolai for sticking his big fat oar in. She’s not an addict. Everyone uses drugs. Even Nikolai’s not opposed to dabbling with a bit of cocaine.
But Nikolai is worried, and Lexi can’t talk her way out of the Clarity Centre. She’s going to be there for almost three months, so it’s time to suck it up and start working her way through the ten-step program that they offer.
Step one? Admitting she has a problem.
Clean is bloody brilliant. So brilliant, in fact, that I’m going to use the ten-step program as inspiration and list ten reasons that I think this is the greatest novel Juno Dawson has written so far:
- It’s a masterclass in character development. When we meet Lexi she’s an absolute bitch. She’s aggressive, verbally attacking anyone that crosses her path, dropping more c-bombs than you can count. However, by the end of the novel she’s matured exponentially, but the shift is completely natural and believable.
- Every character is three-dimensional. There’s a fairly large cast of patients in the rehabilitation centre, and they’re all written with care. There’s Ruby, the binge-eater and Kendall, a transgender anorexic. Guy, who suffers from OCD, and Brady, the mysterious Hollywood hunk who immediately catches Lexi’s eye. None of them are unnecessary, and all of them will reassure and inspire readers in different ways.
- That does mean that it’s far too easy to get attached and root for the characters to get better. You’ll find yourself getting overly invested in their lives within a couple of pages of meeting them, and that makes reading Clean an emotional rollercoaster. Everyone has ups and downs, and I found myself sobbing at multiple points.
- However, the story ends on a hopeful note. I’m not going to give any spoilers as to where the characters end up, but I finished reading Clean with a smile on my face. It’s worth the emotional upheaval that you experience throughout.
- Addiction isn’t romanticised. Whereas some YA novels make addiction look glamorous – part of the lifestyles of the rich and the famous, something to aspire towards – Dawson rejects that dangerous portrayal. One of the greatest quotes in Clean has to be ‘Why can’t we be honest and say ‘drugs are boss until you almost snuff it, your brother abducts you and you start shitting the bed’?’. There’s nothing desirable about shitting the bed.
- On that note, Lexi’s fucking hilarious. I cackled with laughter more than I thought possible while reading a book on such a serious topic. ‘Little birds twitter just outside the window and I wish they’d shut up. What have they got to be so cheerful about? Beaky little twats.’
- For a book called Clean, the language is remarkably profane. I swear like a sailor, so sometimes I get annoyed with the lack of bad language in YA: it just doesn’t seem realistic or genuine when I think back to how my friends and I talked to each other during our teens. It’s a relief to meet a character who swears more than I do. If you’re opposed to reading bad language, this is definitely a book that you should avoid.
- Rehab isn’t treated as a miracle cure. Lexi doesn’t come out of Clarity with an unshakeable will, never to be tempted again, because that’s not how addiction works. In fact, there’s a character called Sasha who’s a regular at Clarity. There’s no magical fix that makes everything better, recovery is treated as an ongoing process. It’s obvious that…
- …Dawson has researched the topic carefully. Clean treats each of the conditions featured with sensitivity, and nothing is included for shock value. When attempting to write a book about something so serious it’s important to get it right, and it’s immediately apparent that Dawson has talked to people who really know their stuff.
- At the end of the novel there’s a support page, recommending helplines and websites that you can use if you relate to any of the problems featured in Clean. It’s vital to feature these kind of resources when writing a book which includes such sensitive issues, so I was very glad to see that included.
Honestly, I could go on. There are SO MANY brilliant things about Clean. It’s one of the best YA contemporaries I’ve ever read, and unquestionably one of the most unique: I can’t think of another YA novel set on a rehabilitation island!
If you’re interested in learning more about Clean, check it out on Goodreads. If you decide to buy a copy, please consider using my Amazon affiliate link: I’ll earn a few pennies from your purchase. Thank you!
Have you read any of Juno Dawson’s other novels? If so, which was your favourite and why?