In this memoir, Smart (Hell Camp, 2013) discusses working at a shelter for troubled teens while also dealing with personal troubles of her own.
For 12 years, the South African author has worked as a supervisor at a county youth shelter in Southern California, taking care of teens who are feuding with their parents or have nowhere else to go. The pay is poor and the work is grueling, she writes, as she deals with the myriad physical, mental, and emotional issues that afflict her wards. Smart has remained there, year in and year out, despite—or perhaps because of—the tremendous problems in her personal life, recounted here: her tumultuous relationship with her teenage daughter; her frustrated dream of being a singer; her on-again, off-again affair with an emotionally troubled member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints; and, most of all, her nearly crippling drinking problem: “I hate my life,” she once thought, after an out-of-control night. “I can’t function anymore….It’s not that I want to kill myself, it’s just that I no longer want to be alive.” As the author tried to help her teens figure out how to exist in the world, she had to figure out how to do so herself. Smart’s prose is energetic and candid throughout this book. It’s tinged with indelicate humor that some readers may occasionally find offensive, though; for instance, she says that she’s not attracted to Jewish men because “I attended a predominately Jewish high school where I fit in like a hedgehog at a balloon party….Would the ‘in’ group have accepted me had I been Smartowitz, or Smartberg?” However, she’s always willing to call out what she sees as right or wrong in her line of work: “there are kids who benefit from Seroquel, or similar drugs, but I’d wager that a healthy diet and some proper parenting might do the trick, too….Seroquel is akin to a whack on the head with a sledgehammer.” Overall, this is a memoir that’s confessional but never myopic—one that shows how easily angels and demons can reside, side by side, inside us all.
A colorful, sometimes-coarse remembrance of addiction and recovery.