Some books are so hard to read, not because they are poorly written or tedious but because the subject matter is just plain frightening. David Sheff's Beautiful Boy —a memoir of his son's meth addition—comes to mind. Anne Lamott's Imperfect Birds, though a novel rather than a memoir, had the same effect on me, that uneasy mix of "there but for the grace of God" and "what do I really know?" (And, to be honest in full realization that this is illogical thinking, "whew! I'm glad I am not raising kids in California!")
Elizabeth knows her 17-year-old daughter, Rosie, isn't perfect. Rosie has toyed with all kinds of typical teenage things: drugs, drinking, partying, sex. But Rosie's grades are fantastic and she always reassures Elizabeth that those were things she "tried once," but never again. Rosie convinces her parents that they are way off track whenever they express suspicions about her behavior. Elizabeth believes that she herself is way too suspicious and even borderline crazy. She tells herself that her own battle with alcohol and prescription meds makes her an ultra-vigilant, overprotective, suspicious parent.
Elizabeth doesn't trust her own instincts and continues to bury her fears, and Rosie's drug use continues to escalate. This isn't a shocking, "that could never happen to us" novel. Elizabeth and James are regular parents, trying to figure out the balance between being authoritative and permissive. Rosie is a master manipulator, and yet the reader always really likes her and is even lured into believing her—just as her parents do.
Lamott is a beautiful, insightful writer and a wonderful storyteller. If you have teenagers, this book will probably scare you and leave you wondering what kind of secret life your own teens have. Highly recommended.