Roxy by Neal & Jarrod Shusterman: Young Adult Fantasy About America's Opioid Crisis
Updated: Sep 30, 2022
I bet you never thought someone would write a young adult contemporary fantasy book about drugs.
Yes, Roxy by Neal Shusterman is about drug addiction, drug addicts, and the consequences of even our smallest choices in life. But it's also, very literally, about drugs themselves. Even the title of the book, Roxy, refers to a character by the same name who symbolizes the drug oxycodone, often sold under the brand names Oxycontin or Roxicet.
If that sounds a little trippy, it's because it is...
About Roxy by Neal Shusterman
Roxy follows two pairs of main characters who powerfully influence each other's lives despite living in completely different realms. Brother and sister Isaac and Ivy Ramey live in the contemporary US with their loving but struggling parents and kick-butt grandma. Isaac is a straight-A junior in high school on track to become a propulsion engineer, while Ivy is a wild party girl who does drugs with her loser boyfriend, Craig.
When Isaac suffers a sports injury, however, he's introduced to the book's titular character, Roxy. She's a seductive, clever, manipulative Boss Babe who takes great pride in her job. Unfortunately, her job is to insert herself into people's lives and get them hooked on her so she can "send them up the line" to her nasty relatives, Hiro (heroin), Charlie (cocaine), and Chris (crystal meth). And she's not about to let Isaac go.
Roxy lives in a world that consists entirely of an eternal party, populated by every drug ever made and their victims. Her goal is to seduce victims into the "VIP room," where users overdose and die. It sounds really morbid, and it is, but the book makes it sound a lot softer, at least in the beginning.
A bet between Roxy and Addison (Adderall) turns Isaac and Ivy's lives upside down as these fantasy gods vie for power over the siblings, invited and welcomed by Isaac's painful injury and Ivy's ADD. But only one of them will survive the brutal competition between Addison and Roxy.
Tropes: clever, twisty plot; mental health; addiction
The Worst Parts of Roxy by Neal Shusterman
When I first started the book, it felt almost like a parable. The way Neal and Jarrod personified the drugs as characters seemed weirdly preachy, and it took me a long time to warm up to that. Additionally, the first 10% of the book is pretty slow.
However, if you give this book a fair chance, you'll have the opportunity to discover what makes it special.
The Best Parts of Roxy by Neal Shusterman
Trying to figure out which characters represented which drugs was actually a fun process, once I got over the weirdness. I love the way the Shustermans presented the glittering, murderous world of the Drug Gods as a big party and their victims as just that: victims.
Another detail I loved is that Addison outright described himself as asexual. There are so few canonically asexual characters out there, and it's really important representation.
The sympathetic yet cautionary treatment of alcoholism, partying, and drug addiction was incredibly well-done. You finish the book feeling gut-punched with empathy for the victims and their loved ones, but with a clear idea of how not to recreate their tragic life course.
Even more, the characters, plot, and pacing (after the first few chapters) were absolutely incredible. I didn't want to put the book down and read it in only two days.
Content Warnings and Age Rating for Roxy by Neal Shusterman
There's some violence, language, and references to sex as well as a whole lot of stuff about drugs, alcohol, addiction, and death. I wouldn't want my young teen reading this book, but I get that it's important for kids to understand and reason on topics like addiction before they're presented with those temptations in school.
If the opioid epidemic weren't so widespread, I'd say this book should be for teens 15 and up. But if a teen grows up surrounded by drugs and addiction early in life, it's better for them to read this book early and be prepared for some harsh realities instead of walking into the world blind.
Who Should Read Roxy by Neal Shusterman
If drugs are a big problem in your county...
If people in your school or workplace are using...
If you know someone struggling with addiction...
If you've had family members or close friends succumb to addiction...
If you want to know the innocent ways addiction can start...
If you just want a straight-up emotional gut-punch of a book...
Read Roxy by Neal Shusterman. I give it five stars.
I'm still a little physically ill anytime I think about the book's ending, but I think that's the point. I welcome the serious topics this book discusses and the serious feelings that well up when you really think about them.
I give Roxy five stars. If you've read it, comment below to tell me what you think!
This article was written by Nicole Adrianne.
Nicole Adrianne is an autistic author living in Stockholm, Sweden. She writes lush, compelling, and clean YA dystopian fiction. Check out more of her work by clicking any of the book covers below.