BENEATH A METH MOON

By Jacqueline Woodson

Nancy Paulsen. $16.99. Age 12 and up.

The Margaret A. Edwards Award for young adult literature usually caps a distinguished career, but for Jacqueline Woodson, who won the prize in 2006 at age 42, the intense, lyrical books keep coming. Her most recent, searing novel opens with Laurel Daneau, 15, trying to understand the choices and forces that brought her to this point: one-day-at-a-time recovery from crystal meth addiction. Laurel wants to “write an elegy to the past” so that she can move forward with her life. The resulting short chapters shift back and forth in time and place, exploring her memories of sun-soaked early years on the Gulf Coast, the loss of her mother and grandmother to Hurricane Katrina and the move to small-town Iowa with her distraught father and little brother. But even joining the cheerleading squad and dating popular athlete T-Boom can’t ease Laurel’s grief — till T-Boom introduces her to “moon,” or meth. The drug makes “all that sadness lift up and fly away.” Though Woodson doesn’t stint on the grim details of Laurel’s swift addiction (neglect of her brother, homelessness) and difficult recovery (withdrawal symptoms, relapses), this powerful story is less a cautionary tale than one of courage, the courage to face the past, integrate emotional pain and rectify mistakes. By the end, Laurel has set herself on a new road, where, supported by family, friends and hard-won insights, she plans to “keep on moving.”

‘Beneath a Meth Moon,’ by Jacqueline Woodson. (Nancy Paulsen Books)