This obligation has gotten me reading a lot more this summer. I’d been avoiding reading for the last year because I thought it would take away from my novel writing time. Actually, the opposite has been true. I read mostly during lunch and before going to bed at night.
Instead of being a “time suck,” reading seems to rev up my imagination and get me thinking constantly about word choice and phrasing, not to mention how much new information there is to learn from other author’s books.
I also joined Netgalley, an online service that connects publishers and authors to a community of early influencers who will help their book succeed: librarians and booksellers, who order an recommend books to their patrons; media professionals who interview authors and publish book reviews; and reviewers and bloggers like me who write about books online and leave reviews on retail sites and more. I have already requested a dozen newly-published or not-yet-published books that I’m excited to read.
I actually discovered Cheryl’s book during a workshop at Left Coast Crime. She was on a panel of authors who have moved from newspaper crime reporting to writing novels. I thought the panel was interesting because, as a past journalist myself, I rarely feel that novelist get the atmosphere of a newsroom exactly right, and even fewer accurately describe the pressures on a crime reporter.
But Poison Girls nails it all—the political maneuvering of publishers and editors, the back-stabbing competition between co-workers, and especially the daily ethical decisions the reporters are forced to make, with no safety net from prosecution.
The novel ls is set in South Side Chicago in 2008 where teenage girls of prominent and wealthy families are dying from fentanyl-laced heroin called “poison.”
Natalie Delaney, a crime reporter for the struggling Chicago Times, is determined to get to the bottom of the deaths. She navigates the world where thrill-seeking teens and hardened drug dealers coexist, by developing a friendship with Libby and Anna, two cousins who are dabbling in the drug world.
Natalie senses that these are not ordinary OD’s, but her new friend, Anna, leads her in confusing circles around the truth. Eventually she traces some unlikely links between the South Side drug dealers and the city’s power brokers, but she still doesn’t know why these young, affluent girls are willing to try a drug that will likely kill them.
As the death toll rises, Natalie finds herself chasing one of the biggest stories of her career. We get a sharp sense of the false leads, half-truths and frustrations that are part of reporting a story that no one else seems eager to break open. The paper is happy to run her page one articles when the focus is on the tawdry deaths and gang involvement. But when the reporting leads to politicians and some of Chicago’s most well-connected families, Delaney is hung out to dry.
Although the drug culture is realistically portrayed, it is the reporter’s life that rings true throughout. Delaney is a flawed and sometimes unsympathetic character, struggling with the ethical dilemma she is thrown into. How does she separate getting the story and becoming personally involved with the people in it? Is it ethical to observe a crime being committed, and not stop it, for the sake of the article? The exploration of her inner life adds layers of depth to the story, and several times I stopped and asked myself what I would do if faced with the same situation.
Cheryl Reed’s Poison Girls is a gripping tale that often reads like creative nonfiction. And for good reason. Reed, a long-time crime reporter, drew the story from her own experiences covering a group of young girls using crack cocaine in Dayton in the 1990s. A former editor and reporter at the Chicago Sun-Times, Cheryl has won many awards for her investigative reporting.
This is Reed’s first fiction novel. Her non-fiction book. Unveiled: the Hidden Lives of Nuns, chronicles her four years living off and on with nuns across the country.
At the time of this writing, Poison Girls has 29 Amazon reviews, all of them 5-Star.
- Paperback: 374 pages. Also available in ebook format.
- Publisher: Diversion Books (September 12, 2017)