Sixteen-year-old Rachel's older brother Micah is a promising musician with an addiction to meth. When their parents find out, they send him away for an ultimately unsuccessful stint in rehab, but Rachel's known—and kept quiet—about his problem for much, much longer.
When Micah takes off and disappears, she feels bad for a lot of reasons: she's hurt that she's been abandoned by her best friend and loyal protector, she's angry that he chose drugs over the family, and she's guilty for not telling her parents about his problem way back when she found out about it. On a daily basis, she's torn between wanting him back... and just wishing him away to the cornfield. A desire that, of course, exacerbates her guilt.
When she gets an anonymous email that says Micah's in nearby Ocean Beach—and that his life might be in danger—she doesn't act immediately. How is she supposed to find him, after all? She doesn't know anyone there, where to start looking, or what questions to ask. And anyway, the email could just be a prank. Two weeks after receiving the email, she calls her brother's friend Tyler—the only guy in Micah's band that she actually likes—and they head out to look for him.
Out of Reach is a contemporary quest novel that teeters on the edge of being an issue novel. Eh. I say 'teeters on the edge', but the more I think about it, the more I feel that it's a straight-up issue novel. Because the issue? Is front-and-center. Yes, there is a romance subplot. Yes, Rachel is struggling with Her Own Stuff at school. Yes, there is a thread about religion and faith that runs throughout the story, and yes, the complexity of Rachel's emotions is well-done, especially given her somewhat locked-down nature.
But. Though most of them are smoothly woven into the story, there's an overwhelming barrage of FACTS ABOUT ADDICTION and FACTS ABOUT METH, which gives it that A Very Special Episode of 90210 feeling*. (Other than that, I have no complaints about the writing, which is straightforward and clear and unpretentious.)
But but. The reason I'm struggling with the IS IT AN ISSUE NOVEL (IN A BAD WAY**) OR IS IT NOT question is this: while Rachel's focus is on Micah and his problem, the book's focus is on Rachel's journey towards making peace with him and it. She keeps very tight control of herself, and tends to be judgemental and somewhat unsympathetic towards those who don't—Jenn got herself date-raped at some guy's house last year when she was plastered—by the end of the book, she hasn't necessarily left that tendency towards judgment behind, but she has realized that Micah's own journey is something that's out of her hands.
Technically an issue novel or not, I'd recommend this one to readers who like 'em.
*"Sounds like this thing called cutting." *headdesk*
**As opposed to NOT IN A BAD WAY.
Book source: Purchased. This book is a 2012 National Book Award finalist.