Synopses & Reviews
Nic Sheff was drunk for the first time at age eleven. In the years that followed, he would regularly smoke pot, do cocaine and Ecstasy, and develop addictions to crystal meth and heroin. Even so, he felt like he would always be able to quit and put his life together whenever he needed to. It took a violent relapse one summer in California to convince him otherwise. In a voice that is raw and honest, Nic spares no detail in telling us the compelling, heartbreaking, and true story of his relapse and the road to recovery. As we watch Nic plunge the mental and physical depths of drug addiction, he paints a picture for us of a person at odds with his past, with his family, with his substances, and with himself. It's a harrowing portrait but not one without hope.
"A memoir written in the present tense, Sheff's first book graphically if self-indulgently recounts his addictions to various drugs, including meth and heroin, and his attempts at recovery as he reaches his early 20s. His narrative begins as he relapses, not for the first time, after 18 months of sobriety, taking readers down an exhausting spiral that includes a naïve attempt at dealing drugs; burglarizing his father's house; hooking up with a vulnerable ex-girlfriend and calling 911 after she overdoses; sleeping and shooting up in his car; and going back into detox. The cycle then repeats, in all its minute details. Flashbacks recall a privileged San Francisco childhood riven by divorce, youthful promise and subsequent degradation (prostitution, stealing from his young half-siblings). Nic's absorption in himself, often expressed as self-contempt, makes much of his account read like a therapeutic exercise, especially given its repetitious nature. While it's tempting to ask if Nic's journalist father's version of the same events, in Beautiful Boy (Nonfiction Reviews, Apr. 30, 2007), supplies the insights missing here, this book's unmediated, down-and-headed-for-disaster sensibility may, for some teen readers, produce the same transfixing quality as a highway accident. Ages 15-up." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Sheff narrates his story with many flashbacks that document in excruciating detail the drug underworld and how he dragged others whom he loved and himself down into a seemingly bottomless pit of despair. The author, in recovery (though not for the first time), nonetheless ends his memoir on a note of hope." School Library Journal
"A raw, directionless search for the truth." Kirkus Reviews
"Sheff's ruminations are too repetitive (even obsessive), yet readers who know of his world will grab this." Booklist
About the Author
andlt;Bandgt;Nic Sheffandlt;/Bandgt; is a recovering drug addict and alcoholic. Still in his earlyandnbsp;twenties, he continues to fight daily battles with his addictions. His writing has been published in andlt;iandgt;Newsweekandlt;/iandgt;, andlt;iandgt;Nerveandlt;/iandgt;, and the andlt;iandgt;San Francisco Chronicleandlt;/iandgt;. andlt;iandgt;Tweakandlt;/iandgt; is his first book.
Reading Group Guide
What are some of the reasons that Nic gives for turning to drugs? What are his insecurities? In what ways do the drugs help him to escape these?
Is Nic happy when he is on drugs? Does he enjoy his life at these times? What does he mean when he calls his addiction a "horrible vicious cycle"?
When Nic relapses in LA in the second part of the book, what is his reason for using again? Were the other people in his life surprised that he relapsed? Was he? Did you see the relapse coming? Why or why not?
What does Nic want from his father? Why does his father react to Nic the way he does? How much do you think Nic's childhood relationship with his father contributed to his addiction?
What does it mean for Nic to give himself over to a higher power? Why is it so difficult for him to do this?
A number of the people in the book come close to dying -- Lauren ODs on heroin, Spencer gets meningitis, and Nic suffers through various overdoses and infections. How do these brushes with death affect Nic's outlook on life? Does he ever believe that any of these people are actually going to die? How does Nic react when Jordan really does die?
Discuss Nic's relationship with Zelda. Why is he so drawn to her? Why does everyone in Nic's life caution him against becoming involved with her? How does she contribute to his addiction? Is there anything healthy about their relationship?
What causes Nic to get help each time he relapsed? What does hitting bottom look like for him? Why is his stay at Safe Passage more effective than his other attempts at rehab? Do you think it's because of what they do there, or what led up to his going there...or both?
Nic's addiction -- and attempts at rehab -- make him part of a specific subculture, one with its own language, values, and network of people. Why does this aspect of the drug culture appeal to him? Would you consider the friends that he makes while using to be good friends?
Nic mentions many times that he feels worthless, and that his addiction has caused him to irreparably damage his relationships with others. Do the actions of his friends and family back this up? Do they treat him as though he has no worth? Does anyone give him unconditional love?
Nic finds strength to stay sober in his family, his writing and other aspects of his life. Identify the people, hobbies and beliefs in your own life that you rely on for strength when going through a tough time.
Tweak covers less than two years of Nic's life, yet offers a lot of insight into him as a person. Write your own memoir, choosing a period of your life that you feel represents who you truly are.
Learning CPR ends up being an important skill for Nic. Find a CPR or first aid class in your community and sign up to get certified.
Exercise is very helpful to Nic when he is sober -- it burns excess energy and helps him feel focused. Dust off your bike, join a gym, go for a hike, or run around the block. Find a form of exercise that helps you to feel focused and strong.
Nic's body goes through a lot when he is in detox. Research what happens to the body when drugs are being used, and the physiology of detoxification.
Spencer believes very strongly that helping others is an important part of sobriety, as it distracts you from your own problems and desires. Look around your community and decide how you can lend a hand. Volunteer at a soup kitchen, raise money for a cause that you believe in, or even help your parents around the house.
Evaluate your beliefs about drug and alcohol use and reflect on your own experiences or those of friends. Visit checkyourself.com to connect with other teens and share stories about the impact of drugs and alcohol.
A conversation with Nic Sheff, Author of Tweak
Q: What inspired you to write Tweak?
A: Well, I guess it was sort of therapy for me or something. And I think it was also a way of trying to make my experiences meaningful. I mean, I think that all we can hope to do in life is take all the random accidents and stuff that happens to us and try our best to deal with it all and ultimately create something useful and meaningful from the chaos.
Q: You've been writing your whole life. Was this experience cathartic in any way or did you gain new insight into your experiences? Did it take a lot of courage to tell your story?
A: I always felt pretty isolated growing up, but reading certain authors' books really did help me to realize that I wasn't completely crazy or deranged or whatever. Writers like Donald Goines, Dennis Cooper, Iceberg Slim, Ryu Murakami, Georges Bataille, Charles Bukowski, and Pauline Reage were all so inspiring to me because they were absolutely fearless about sharing their inner worlds. They made me feel like my fantasies and fears and insecurities and fascinations didn't mean that I was sick or bad. It was like I finally could see that there were other people out there as fucked up as me. So really it was those authors' courage that allowed me to tell my own story and reveal so much about myself. And I think that the more each one of us opens up and shares who we are, the more we allow other people to do the same thing which is totally a gift. To be able to let go of my secrets and my constant need to try to be something I wasn't, well, that was like the most liberating thing ever. And, yeah, that was definitely cathartic. But, I mean, I'm not perfect at it not even close. It's pretty much a daily struggle.
Q: This book deals with some very traumatic events in your past. What was the hardest thing to write about?
A: When I was reading over the manuscript, more than anything else I was just embarrassed about how naive and stupid I'd been. I was so young and confused, but I always thought I knew exactly what I was doing. Honestly, that was harder to write about than any of the trauma stuff.
Q: Is there anything that is off-limits for a memoir writer?
A: I don't know about in general, but for me, I tried my best to protect my family and friends from being too exposed or whatever. I mean, I didn't wanna take anyone down with me. But, well, I'm sure I wasn't perfect at that either.
Q: What was your process in writing this book? Were you ever tempted to exaggerate or stretch the truth?
A: Basically I just tried to put everything down, sort of regurgitating it all. It was only later that I went through and edited it to try to make something coherent out of the whole thing. So, it really was more about the act of getting everything out of me and the process of writing, rather than the end result.
Q: Your father's book, Beautiful Boy, is coming out at the same time as your own. Did you know he was writing his side of the story? How involved or not was he in your process? And how involved were you in his?
A: Uhmmm, we weren't involved in each other's books at all, really. We both read each other's works to make sure neither one would be overly hurtful or whatever. Basically, I really feel terrible about what I put my dad and his family through, so I try to be supportive of anything he has to do to help himself heal and understand everything that happened. I think writing Beautiful Boy was a way for him to do that, just like writing Tweak was for me. So, in that way, it seems pretty cool that we both got to have this opportunity. And, weirdly enough, I think it has helped us to become closer again and to have the beginnings of some sort of closure.
Q: How have you changed since you began writing this book?
A: Well, I actually relapsed about halfway through writing Tweak, so I obviously was still struggling with a lot of issues. But then I got sober and went through this really intense treatment and rode a Greyhound bus across the country and did all this crazy stuff, all the while writing the whole time, and, yeah, things have really changed a lot for me. It's funny because I'm still totally broke, so I recently got a job being a model at the art school here in Savannah. It was so scary having to take off all my clothes and let this room full of people just stare at my naked body especially now that I'm sober. I mean, in ways it was scarier than even some of the stuff I did on the street, cause it was so intimate and everything. But there seems to be a total parallel between doing the modeling and writing a memoir like Tweak. I've had to learn to just strip down and say something like, "Here I am, faults and all. This is me and I'm okay with that." Writing Tweak has definitely helped me to do that more to embrace my imperfect self and not try to pretend I'm someone else or hide who I really am.
Q: What do you hope for teens to learn as a result of reading Tweak?
A: I don't know. Being a teenager sucked for me. I was constantly insecure and terrified and thinking there was something wrong with me. Doing drugs was the only thing that could relieve me of that constant stream of self-loathing circulating through my mind. So, well, I wish I could spare everyone from having to go through that hell. But reading Tweak isn't gonna do that. Still, maybe it's just cool to know that things are hard and mixed up and that it's normal and okay. Working to get to a place where we can accept and love ourselves, that's the challenge. And the path is different for everyone. There is no formula, no perfect system. I tried so many different things before anything started to work for me. So I guess I would encourage people not to be afraid of that process.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: I just finished a novel that sort of plays off Rear Window or Body Double or one of those movies. It's called Peeping Henry, and I've been describing it as a pulp, drug addict redemption tale, or something like that. I've also just started writing another novel, Feral Boy, Feral Girl, about these runaway street kids in San Francisco who get mixed up trying to stop a serial killer who's preying on their male hustler friends. So I guess I'm moving into the mystery genre, sort of.
This interview is provided by Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing and can be reprinted for publication either in full or excerpted as individual questions and answers, as long as they are reprinted in their entirety.