Published by Starfire on October 1st 1984 (originally published January 1st 1976)
Genres: Young Adult
Seventeen-year-old Geri is under pressure from her mother to be "popular." When she meets the handsome and witty Dave, she is suddenly more of an insider than she's ever been.
But Dave's easygoing manner masks a dangerous addiction to drinking, one that drags Geri down further and further away from her innocent upbringing.
Because it turns out that the inexperienced Geri loves liquor as much as Dave — and turning from a "freak" to a member of the in-crowd comes at a price.
I have wanted to read this book for a long time and I am really glad that I finally managed to get my hands on a copy. This was not an easy book by any stretch of the imagination (it was downright difficult to get through at times actually) but it was definitely a worthwhile, thought-provoking read.
The subject matter is a tricky one and it was hard for me at times to empathize with Geri (probably because I grew up living with an alcoholic – not an easy thing to admit to but a necessary one to understand my viewpoint) but having the protagonist be the one with the problem was really a bold move – especially for a book that was first published in the 1970’s.
I know from reading another one of her other books Happy Endings Are All Alike that Sandra Scoppettone is not one to shy away from difficult topics and she did not disappoint with this, her earlier novel The Late Great Me.
I had worried at first that this book may not have necessarily been able to get under my skin the same way Happy Endings did when I first read it all those years ago (I was about fifteen if I recall correctly and it had a huge impact on my impressionable, teenage self). I needn’t have worried. This book grabbed me from the first and aside from a couple of moments where it was clear this book was a little bit dated nonetheless Geri’s struggle always felt very real and present.
I have made it a goal to try to read vintage young adult books. One, because I am somewhat nostalgic for the past, but also because some of these have a lot to offer and shouldn’t ever be over-looked. The Late Great Me is definitely a rare find – although in some respects it is very much a product of its time, in other ways it is absolutely timeless.
I am getting a little bit ahead of myself here so I think a little bit of background is required. The Late Great Me is a book about a shy teenager called Geri. Geri feels isolated from her family. Her father is a distant figure and her mother seems to live in the past, frequently regaling her family with tales of her seemingly perfect teenage years. Her brother seems to be cut from the same mould as her mother, the perfect teenager with the perfect grades, athletic interests and the model girlfriend.
Geri, on the other hand, feels like a loser, a self-confessed freak, who really only has a couple of close friends. Although Geri feels stifled by her mother’s input into her life, there is a part of her that longs for acceptance and popularity. Her world is turned upside down when she meets Dave, a handsome new kid with a troubled history of his own.
Together, they will fall deeper and deeper into the world of partying and drinking and soon Geri is spiralling out of control. A teacher at school could offer the salvation she desperately needs but does Geri have the strength to admit that she really has a problem?
I often struggle to sympathise with alcoholics. It’s something I realized about myself years ago. It sounds pretty harsh but I know how alcohol makes some people behave and the destruction it can cause not only to themselves but to just about everyone around them. My dad was an alcoholic and he was the definition of a mean drunk. He would be the life and soul of any gathering but in private would quite often show a darker side.
This book pulls absolutely no punches. You see Geri at her very worst. It doesn’t happen overnight but eventually her drinking begins to take a heavy toll on her. I didn’t expect to feel for her plight as much as I did but by golly I really got her struggles.
It was pretty gut-wrenching at times to be quite honest. I was with Geri through every bump, every turn, and every setback she faced. And yes, I felt for her. This book was absolutely brutal and really messed with my head but in the best possible way.
I wouldn’t go as far to say I ‘understand’ the battle that alcoholics have to face (and it is a battle, just like fighting any other kind of disease or illness) but I certainly do understand that feeling of watching the bottom of your world drop away from you and not having anything to hold onto to keep you from falling into the abyss.
I think reading this book at this particular time is something that is really good for me on a personal level. I am undergoing therapy to deal with things that happened in my past and maybe it is a good thing for my eyes to be opened more to the struggle that certain people have with alcohol. Lord knows there are other things I rely on as a crutch (food for one thing).
I think maybe forgiveness is a good thing for anyone to feel. I need to deal with my past and maybe not have such a black and white attitude to those who struggle with their demons and use things like alcohol to dull away the pain.
The book really hit me in a profound way. I actually wish I had read it years ago as it may possibly have given me a bit more insight about alcoholism and it may have helped me understand the alcoholic in my own life. I will never actually know and what is past is past. Still, this book was a thoroughly engrossing read and I have to thank the author for depicting alcoholism in such a realistic way.