A riveting, deeply personal exploration of the opioid crisis-an empathic memoir infused with hints of true crime.
In November 2013, Rose Andersen’s younger sister Sarah died of an overdose in the bathroom of her boyfriend’s home in a small town with one of the highest rates of opioid use in the state. Like too many of her generation, she had become addicted to heroin. Sarah was 24 years old.
To imagine her way into Sarah’s life and her choices, Rose revisits their volatile childhood, marked by their stepfather’s omnipresent rage. As the dysfunction comes into focus, so does a broader picture of the opioid crisis and the drug rehabilitation industry in small towns across America. And when Rose learns from the coroner that Sarah’s cause of death was a methamphetamine overdose, the story takes a wildly unexpected turn.
As Andersen sifts through her sister’s last days, we come to recognize the contours of grief and its aftermath: the psychic shattering which can turn to anger, the pursuit of ever an ever-elusive verdict, and the intensely personal rites of imagination and art needed to actually move on.
Reminiscent of Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich’s The Fact of a Body, Maggie Nelson’s Jane: A Murder, and Lacy M. Johnson’s The Other Side, Andersen’s debut is a potent, profoundly original journey into and out of loss.
“I hate who I am. I hate the person that drugs make me into. It is not me anymore breathing my breath- it is all the drugs- talking, laughing, crying through my life. You might as well suck the coating off me, chop me up and snort me.- Sarah’s Journal, April 5, 2007”
Reading stories of other people’s struggles with addiction hits really close to home for me. It brings back terrible memories of what my family went through when I was younger. It’s hard to talk about but we all grow and learn from mistakes. It pains me to think about what my Mom-Mom went through with some of her children.
This heart-wrenching memoir of Rose and what her family went through with her sister’s addiction and overdose hit me like a ton of bricks. It brought back so many memories and emotions in me that I almost broke down at work while reading. This is never an easy subject to discuss but it’s an important one.
Rose doesn’t hold back as she describes her life with and without her Sister in it. She pulls no punches as she describes the anguishing heartbreak of dealing with her own struggles and the ones thrown at her. As much as she was willing to give up to help someone she loved so dearly, the only way to help someone is if they are willing to accept that help. It’s no easy feat.
The Heart and Other Monsters was a deeply emotional read that sometimes felt fictional but wasn’t. It tugged me into a dark hole of my childhood and I’m glad that Rose shed some light on things that I never fully understood. Things that I never thought I would be able to pick apart myself. We never know what someone is going through. Before we judge someone, we need to know their story and listen to them. We don’t know unless we ask and offer support.