Elizabeth Laird was born in New Zealand but she lived in London until she grew up. As soon as she could, she began to travel, and went off to live first in Malaysia, then in Ethiopia, Iraq, Lebanon and Austria (!) Now she lives near London with her husband, who is also a writer, and her two sons. She likes reading (a lot), gardening, walking, going to the cinema, talking to friends and cooking (sometimes). As well as Jay, she has written Red Sky in the Morning (Highly Commended for the Carnegie Medal), Kiss the Dust (which won the Children's Book Award), Hiding Out and Secret Friends.


Cassie, the first person narrator and protagonist of the book, has been suffering from hepatitis for months. With the help and care of her family and her best friend Ven she recovers completely and is able to continue leading a normal life. But suddenly things change and her life is wretched from under her. One day her father leaves home to live with another woman called Jenny and what is more is that her older brother James (called "Jay") runs away. He starts taking the drugs which Riff, his "best friend", gives to him until he totally "freaks out" and ends up in a clinic.


Although the book is just fiction I think it shows the fall from a well-situated kid to a drug-addicted junkie in a very credible way. Jay can't cope with the thought of his father having a girlfriend and abandoning his family. He feels neglected and so starts to search for a community or a clique representing his second home. He mixes with the wrong crowd, for example Riff, who pretends to be his best friend but is just a filthy drug dealer. From that point of his life he gets deeper and deeper into the "drug game". As a results he decides to drop college and even his dearly loved clarinet music. He steals money from his mother and sells his sister's walkman to afford his addiction. Jay has no proper housing, gets thin, pale and sick. Dope is controlling his moves, his thoughts, his actions, simply his whole life.

The harmless beginnings of taking hash and other soft drugs rise to an addition to LSD and other stimulants which cause hallucinations. Every time he gets drugs he gets deeper and deeper into the vicious circle: he takes drugs because he feels depressed or bad, then because he took drugs he is even worse and takes drugs again, this does not come to an end until he is "put in the bin".

On Christmas Evening he is under the influence of a powerful hallucinogen, possibly LSD, exacerbated by cannabis. He catches sight of his reflection in a shop window and it frightens him. He thinks it is threatening him and attacks it. Although he did not intend to commit a crime he is taken to the police where his mother and his younger sister Cassie get informed about what is going to happen next to Jay. He needs to be in a place of safety where he can have proper medical supervision. If he does not get help immediately, the consequences could be very serious.

The condition Jay is in when he is admitted to hospital is described very vividly. When reading the passage it really gave me the shivers:

"He was standing alone at the end of a narrow, bare cell, hugging himself, his arms in their dirty grey selves wrapped round his thin body. His hair had grown and it stood out in unwashed tangles round his head.  'I didn't melt it all down, only the crown, and I'll kill you if you say I did. Don't touch me! There is nothing in the secret store. Don't tell them! They are trying to pin it on to me, pin me, pins, brooches..' He bent double, hugging his knees, then jerked himself upright again. He was a stranger, a wild thing. 'It's not true,' he said over his shoulder, as if he was talking to someone behind him. 'If you say that again I'll blow you away.' He turned back to me but his eyes couldn't focus on me for long. He suddenly began scratching himself, reaching round his shoulders and back with violent stabs of his hands.

When he is being treated for drug addiction Cassie has to screw herself up to visit him in hospital. Jay's voice is slurred and a dribble of saliva runs down his chin. Cassie wonders why her brother is still hallucinating because normally the effects wear off after a few hours. So the staff explains that he has got so much cannabis and LSD in his system that he has just got to wait till it is all flushed out. Furthermore Jay has been mixing the substances and seems to be more susceptible to the stuff than others. With shaking hands Cassie's brother longs for a "spliff" but they just give him sedatives to calm him down. Nobody knows if Jay will ever get out of hospital again because this kind of drug psychosis can trigger off something more. But there is a reasonable chance of pulling through.

Finally Jay comes back home. In fact he isn't fine, but he isn't really sick any more, either. He changed. He is quieter, more nervy, starts at loud noises and gets stressed over tiny little things, like losing his lighter or running out of milk when he wants his tea. He can't concentrate on anything for more than a minute or two. He is getting better, but so slowly you do not really notice a difference from day to day.

Finally starts playing his clarinet again and gets the opportunity to record a CD with Freddie Benson, one of the greatest jazz players of the 1960s. And although Riff tries to sell him drugs again he does not relapse into his old habit and stays clean.


There are such a lot of books dealing with the subject of drugs and for this reason I think that this topic has been "recycled" too often. Some passages are really long-winded, especially the first few chapters. To put it in a nutshell: The story gets more interesting page by page until it reaches the climax when Jay becomes a "nutter" and is admitted to hospital. But even then the story is not really gripping.

The language used is easy to understand and I have found some words and phrases I'd like to remember and to reuse. For example: to put in the bin, to be daft, blow one's mind away,.

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