Roxy is a bejeweled bookend between utterly immersive fictional worlds



Roxy, by Jarrod and Neal Shusterman, tells a salient story of drug addiction through the personification of various drugs.

TW: This review and book contain mentions of drug addiction and specific substances.

There’s an inexplicable peace that wraps me up in a hug between aisles overflowing with books, a vast jungle of worlds at my fingertips, the next adventure just waiting to be carefully removed and perused before I commit to it. 

When I find myself stuck in the languid space between books, caught up in the words that imprinted themselves along the walls of my mind last, the shelves and tables brimming with both glossy new covers and creased, well-loved ones are the hands waiting to pull me up and out of that deplorable desert. 

It was in this way that I found Roxy—shades of red and purple blossoming against each other, a sort of ambiguity within the simple yet convoluted design. 

While I maintained a degree of skepticism, it was promising that I recognized one of the two authors listed on the front cover: Neal Shusterman. 

In January of 2020, Shusterman’s Scythe trilogy carried me down from the high of Marissa Meyer’s Renegades series and then into the whimsical magic of The Raven Cycle by Maggie Stiefvater—quite possibly my favorite book series of all time. While the Scythe trilogy couldn’t quite match the caliber of those series, it carefully delineated those experiences with something far gentler and thought-provoking.

And although Roxy—co-authored by Shusterman and his son, Jarrod Shusterman—is a very different entity from the Scythe trilogy, it had that same thought-provoking and palate-cleansing quality, perhaps with even more magnetism than the trilogy. 

…here, those lights are always twinkling, because it’s always night. The date might change, but the scene is the same. The bar never closes. The DJ never stops spinning one song into another. This place exists at that golden moment when the bass drops.

Roxy by Neal and Jarrod Shusterman

Roxy tackles the heavy subject of drug addiction but in an entirely innovative way—by personifying the drugs themselves. There is an eternal Party raging on overhead, brimming with “partygoers”—otherwise known as drugs—desperate to bring people up to the Party and follow them to the end. 

The story follows Roxy and Addison—Oxycontin and Adderall respectively—as they challenge each other to see who can be first to bring their mark—siblings Isaac and Ivy Ramey—up to the Party and remain with them until their dying moments.

The whole novel is essentially an extended metaphor, told in a charming blend of flowery, philosophical prose and blunt realities. A note within my Notes app is filled with the quotes that made me stop and reread them, the lines that would’ve had me taking a pen to the page if it wasn’t a library book.

As artfully as the words are arranged on the page, the story is weaved of ever-entangling threads, each identifiable in their own right but nonetheless part of a whole, something greater, something resplendent.

Nearly immediately, I enmeshed myself with the characters, aware that no matter the outcome, I would be heartbroken. Isaac and Ivy are distinct figures, each with a unique subset of problems that I empathized with in different lights. Isaac’s need for perfection because that’s what had grown to be expected of him echoed in a hidden corner of my mind while Ivy’s ever-present feeling that the world wasn’t mean for her shouted loudly from a conspicuous ledge of my heart.

Holding their hands in mine like that, I followed Isaac and Ivy’s separate but parallel journeys with natural ease, never questioning why they made the choices they did but desperately wanting better for them, nonetheless.

It’s this seemingly natural progression of both Ivy and Isaac’s descent into dependency and full-fledged addiction that is the most crucial component of Roxy, the life force beating at the center of the story. The novel seemingly functions to draw attention to the complexities of drug addiction and the people caught up within it, lost and fighting but slave to something that feels so much stronger to them.

The overall arc of the novel fosters a deeper understanding, highlighting the highs of drug addiction—the moments of perceived invincibility and the euphoric peaks—but quickly dampening those bright colors with the startling lows—the desperation, the dependency, being out of control and lost.

‘We are the gardeners, Addison.’ ‘Yes, but they gorge themselves on what we grow.’

Roxy by Neal and Jarrod Shusterman

In moments, I was caught up in the splendor of the Party, lost in the personification of a variety of drugs—from Lucy (LSD) to Phineas (Morphine)—adding a layer of intrigue and enchantment to something truly dark and duplicitous. The story was broken up by interludes, each of them from the perspective of a different drug than Roxy and Addison, who shared page-time with Ivy and Isaac, offering not only a certain poetry, but also an inside look at the functions and assumed “motives” of different drugs.

Overall, the meticulous build up watered the seeds of understanding, and I couldn’t completely blame Ivy or Isaac—while I grappled with frustration at their self-destructive tendencies, the story was formed to grow and tend to empathy within me, what I imagine was the overall goal of Roxy.

But this greater understanding also warned me, as a reader, against decisions that could kickstart me on a path bearing any similarity to Isaac’s or Ivy’s. In today’s society, while drug addiction remains a prevalent vein within media, there are enormous stigmas surrounding it and a degree of fear-mongering that does little to inform of the genuine dangers.

However, with Roxy, it was abundantly clear that an enormous amount of research was poured into the overall accuracy of the story, and rather than fear-mongering, the linear journeys that Isaac and Ivy suffered through highlighted the seemingly insignificant ways that the use of prescription drugs can evolve from use to abuse, evoking self-reflection from readers beyond myself—or at least I can hope.

In the end, Roxy came to a resounding close far sooner than I wanted it to, and while it’s indubitably a salient message conveyed through a colorfully compelling vessel, it is also simply a good story, one that fastened me to the flip-flip-flip of its pages and had me curled up in various spots throughout my house, eager to find my place one again.

In typical fashion, Shusterman provided a complete loop with Roxy, a story with closure to clear the canvas of my mind for the next dizzying adventure I’ll find between the bookshelves.