Thicker than Water by Kelly Fiore – Review by Claire Gibson
Working with high school students, I am often shocked at the stories my students share with me that seem so gritty and foreign compared to my own life experiences through high school. I have seen students exercise courage and grit in situations that, as an adult, I am unsure how even I would react. Sometimes students who have endured harsh circumstances want to find a new world in fantasy or romance novels in which case I am quick to introduce kids to James Dashner or Sarah Dessen. Other times, however, those same students want to know that they aren’t alone in dealing with dark issues that are often present and, unfortunately, left undiscussed.
In her new novel Thicker than Water, Kelly Fiore exposes the harsh reality of addiction’s far reaching consequences. We meet CeCe at the Piedmont Juvenile Correctional Facility where she resides in the Behavioral Therapy unit where she is awaiting trial for the murder of her brother, Cyrus. Although this juicy plot is what initially drew me to the story, early on it is obvious that Cyrus’ death was not a simple murder case. We read on to uncover the story that reveals the events that led to Cyrus’ dark addiction with prescription pain killers and Cece’s initial vulnerability and ultimate entanglement with Cyrus’ demons.
Fiore layers two storylines, one chronicling Cece from the loss of her mother through the loss of her brother, and the second, following Cece’s entrance into behavioral therapy through her sentencing. Through these dual plot lines we meet Cece, a gifted student who dabbles in drug dealing in hopes of supporting her education and family circumstances; Cyrus, a star soccer player with potential to go pro who winds up a casualty of prescription painkillers; and Craig, their father, a recently remarried widower who is unable to recognize the signs of the demise of his own family. Through each character we are able to see the truth in Fiore’s sentiments: “Sometimes our victims are also our criminals.” As a reader, I found myself both empathizing and chastising each character throughout the novel; sometimes seeing them as the victim and other times as the perpetrator.
Because the content of her novel strikes so close to home for the author, as a reader I found myself asking questions about my own beliefs about addiction along the way. Not everything is black or white, especially when it comes to family and addiction. This is what I relate to most as a reader and what I think students will respond to as well. Not just students who can relate to the circumstances of Cece’s family, but also students who are making up their minds about addiction in our society. Students who are questioning whether a friend, parent, or sibling’s drug or alcohol use is becoming more than recreational. Cece comments that she “thought about the rights and wrongs in life and how the line was far too thin between them.” Students may be left asking some of these questions: When you are exposed to drug abuse, who can you go to for help outside of your family? What is my responsibility as a bystander to drug use and abuse? What are my options as a bystander to drug use and abuse? Mostly, I was left asking myself: Who is talking to kids about these issues?
While this is a title I would reserve for mature readers, it creates an opportunity for readers to identify the complicated nature of addictions and dialogue about this serious issue. Although there are deep issues presented, this title isn’t only for readers exploring the darkness of addiction. I would also recommend this for kids-and adults-who are looking for a follow-up book to author Ellen Hopkins. To hold readers’ attention, Thicker than Water includes classic elements of the young adult genre including two romantic interests who distract Cece along her journey and the mystery of what role Cece really played in killing her brother. Regardless of what readers are looking for, they will be left with a story that satisfies.
Claire Gibson is a high school English teacher and Instructional Coach at Adams City High School in Commerce City, CO. She is an eager reader of young adult novels. You can find her on Twitter @Gibby86 or read about her reading and teaching life on her blog at ateacherwhowrites.com.