Teens earn a living as test subjects in medical trials in a novel that may feel dystopian but is very much set in the present day.
Technically these contemporary teens are “professional volunteers,” but that’s just doublespeak for the way Audie, her roommates, and a whole underclass of people support themselves. Audie narrates in sardonic first-person as she and other human guinea pigs spend their days applying to be paid test subjects and then being poked, prodded, medicated, and invasively evaluated by cold, dismissive medical staff. The myriad pills, injections, experimental procedures, and tissue samplings cause side effects, and does it really matter which overlapping treatments—or booze or recreational drugs—are causing what? Audie knows her boyfriend, Dylan, loves her (he stayed when she “sprayed, puked, shat, dribbled”), but when fellow guinea pig Charlotte dies, Audie’s life unravels. Memory lapses past and present become more noticeable, and details don’t line up. The picture that Audie’s painted—her clean apartment, her relationship with Dylan, the nature of her past trauma, and even her level of consent in the medical treatment—dissolves on her and on readers. Audie’s world and reality tip sideways, and there may be no way for her to be more than “me to the power of fucked.” The overall message is murky and the narrative so unreliable and tricky that readers will be hard-pressed to make sense of everything even in hindsight, but there’s no denying the story’s power.
Raw, funny, grotesque, unsettling, and very sad. (author’s note) (Fiction. 15-18)