In this debut novel Carrie Arcos takes an interesting looking at addiction; how it affects those under it's spell, their friends, and family. Micah has gone missing and his disappearance is solely due to his meth addiction. Micah's sister, Rachel, and Tyler, and friend and band-mate of Micah's, undertake to find him with nothing more than the assistance of a week old anonymous email.
Rachel is a year younger than her brother. She has known about the extent and duration of his drug use more than anyone yet she choose to never speak up. While never supporting or encouraging his addiction she lacked the courage to act out at what could have been key moments in Micah's decline. Upon receiving an anonymous email stating Micah's condition and whereabouts she resolves to drive to the city and find her brother, thus ending her status as sideline bystander in the event of Micah's drug descent.
While her heart is in the right place, from the very beginning I had problems taking Rachel's search seriously due to some of the decision she made. Sure she wants to find Micah and she wants him to get help and she hopes for the best but it all felt like a joke; her search felt like nothing more than something to do on an otherwise slow weekend. In the very beginning she recalls a story of Micah in a rehab facility and a meeting between those in the clinic and their families. A young woman admits to sleeping with lots of men for heroin. It's a big emotional breakthrough for her to admit the depth of her problem and to do so to herself and in front of her family. Rachel makes jokes about the woman's front teeth and how big they are and how she can identify the woman's mother because she has similar large front teeth. As a reader, I couldn't understand how addiction was being presented as something serious as it was taken anything but seriously by the book's main character. Throughout the novel this point never changed.
Rachel's quest to find her brother was marred by similar immaturity from the outset. Sibling, loved one, best friend, whoever; is away from home and you're scared because you don't know their location but you're certain as to the extent of their drug problem so when you get a tip saying, 'Hey, _______'s over here and in bad shape...' you would either a) wait a week to take action, or b) essentially ignore the email and not even reply. Well, if you're Rachel, why not maximize your incredulity and do both!
As Rachel and Tyler stumble around the town that was supposedly Micah's confirmed place of residence a week ago she continually puts them in increasingly precarious situations not so much out of concern or an impatient desire to help Micah, but an arrogance--I'll indulge her actions and say possibly ignorance--of 'Nothings gonna happen to me. Why not just harass these people until I find out what I want?' While I've never had to do anything that she is depicted as doing, common sense in her situation would demand that while you're shoving Micah's picture under the noses of homeless people, junkies, and drug dealers--all of whom have absolutely nothing to lose--you might wanna exercise a certain measure of decorum and caution. She quite literally laughed in the face of a recovering sex addict as that person was trying to help her. Tyler, who I felt was the best drawn character, maintains no hope in their rescue mission but is cheerfully optimistic for the sake of Rachel and the possible romantic interest that lies between them.
Tyler has seen and dealt with addiction in a way Rachel hasn't. His father has confronted his alcoholism and asked forgiveness whereas Micah's is still coming to terms with how meth is affecting him. It's through Tyler that we see that Out of Reach isn't so much about finding Micah and keeping him safe rather it's about Rachel coming to terms with Micah's not being ready yet to ask for help. This point felt really weak and there was a pervasive, 'He'll come back when he's ready, Micah doesn't want to be found' theme that made me roll my eyes. While it was easy to see that Micah wasn't going to be found by the book's conclusion, it felt more like Rachel saying 'I'm okay with you not being ready to seek or accept help yet; keep using and explore how bad life with meth can get.' They got in the car and set out to find him out of care and concern because of a serious drug problem, but by the end Rachel has decided that's its okay to be passive and wait for him to come to me. I don't think she gave up on her brother, but she did either give in to the problem or the initial, naivety of her search for him. I didn't feel that someone capable of such a large change of heart was a strong enough choice of narrator to tell a story.
Rachel's acceptance of Micah was paralleled by a faux, never fully realized, spiritual awakening that either needed further development or to be removed altogether. As Rachel and Tyler's day trip finished with them stealing her car back, breaking into a church, and antagonizing previously mentioned shadier denizens of life, we aren't offered anything by way of conclusion. Not by way of finding Micah (oddly we're supposed to embrace the fact that he's not ready to be found and therefore lets wait around while he uses more until he's ready), understanding Rachel's position, or even Rachel making steps towards being more open with other people--or parents--as to what she knows about Micah's problem. There is symmetry in the email Rachel sends Micah at the end as it's much like the one she initially received that launches the books adventure: it goes unanswered, neglected, and surely not ever to resonate with it's intended reader for a very long time.
The book is cleanly written, with a comfortably moving pace, it's easy to read and things never got as gritty as I expected considering the subject matter. (I'm always okay with diet-grit with topics like this.) Out of Reach skirts some weighty issues, makes light of some very weighty issues and struggles to actually tell a well rounded story, but it's also the kind of book that if it gets people talking, good things will happen in society--I actually believe that--even if a good story never full materializes in it's covers.