Too Cool For School


I put off reading this book because the double marketing reeked of self promotion. For those who don’t know, David Sheff and his son released two memoirs about his son’s addiction to crystal meth at the same time. They received quite a sales push from Barnes and Noble, Starbucks, and did I hear they were on Oprah as well? So I avoided them.

This spring I grabbed Beautiful Boy on my break and got into the beginning. I decided to read it with an open mind. Then my mind closed about half-way through this too-cool-for-school dad’s diatribe about addiction in America.

David Sheff wanted to do everything right in the beginning. He wanted to listen to Nirvana with his son. He wanted to heal the scab of divorce that was inflicted when he and his first wife separated. So he tried to be Nic’s best friend. He took him surfing. He put him in the best schools. It seems to me that he set no boundaries, for example, he felt okay smoking a joint with his then fourteen-year-old son who had already been caught with pot.

This book seemed aimed and pointed at an upper-middle-class generation that has no clue about crystal meth and addiction and rehab. How can a parent not be aware of the problem of crystal meth? Sheff explains it, but it’s too late. Nic is addicted and I am already sick of all the rehab stories.

Sheff is a capable writer, but he seems to be reaching as he inserts popular culture references that might seem cool to his kid’s generation. Beck, Nirvana, Wes Anderson films, Little Miss Sunshine. I get it. He’s hip with the vernacular. I ended up skipping over parts.

I can envision this as an adequate memoir to reference for any parent who knows absolutely nothing about addiction or the state of rehab. I hope Nic stays sober, but I’m not going to read his book. At least his dad got a best seller out of it.

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  1. christa 10.Apr.09 at 11:25 am

    I have picked up that book so many times, simply because the cover is so appealing. But I have this thing that won’t let me read a book that is on display at a Starbucks. But I was tempted. Good to know it is suck.

  2. Sarah 10.Apr.09 at 5:57 pm

    I also thought seriously about reading this…and luckily you reviewed it and I don’t have to. Thanks!

  3. Jessica 17.Apr.09 at 11:45 am

    I have to disagree. Of course, I went about this differently, I read Tweak first, then David Sheff’s story. He isn’t pretending to be “hip with the vernacular”, that’s the whole point of the story. Nic’s version is no holds barred, and talks about his dad introducing him to a lot of this “hip” culture of music, film, etc. I really doubt here that the reviewer, Amy, went in with an open mind. Sounds like a literary elitist, if it’s popular, it has to be mindless. I found it brave, and heart-wrenching. Amy, are you a parent? Most people identified because they know your heart bleeds when a child is going through something you CAN NOT prevent or control or proctect them from. The book was excellent

  4. amyabts 17.Apr.09 at 12:19 pm

    thanks for the comment, jessica. i probably didn’t go into sheff’s book with quite the open mind as i had wanted to because i felt the marketing of the book was offensive. this is a family’s story, but they felt okay marketing it everywhere from starbucks to the talk show circuit?
    to answer to the claim of being a literary elitist, oh boy, i read everything from stephen king to maeve binchy to james baldwin, so that can’t be it. here’s a secret: i also am part of the book marketing world, so i can’t claim to being elitist.

  5. Jodi 17.Apr.09 at 2:57 pm

    You argument seem to shoot itself in the foot a bit. One should not have to read a previous book or be a parent to enjoy a book. It seems to me if Sheff had done his job as an author his work would stand alone and not rely on outside work and experiences his reader may or may not have.

  6. Mandy 18.Apr.09 at 6:59 pm

    I have to disagree. I just recently read both these books and found them equally engaging and well-written, though in very different ways. Maybe you have to know an addict or understand addicts to really enjoy these books. And I don’t think it’s such a horrible thing that they did a bit of a marketing push with the books. They helped to raise awareness about addiction, which is grossly misunderstood in American society. And I really can’t understand why anyone would restrict themselves from reading books just because Starbucks or Oprah said they were good. You could be denying yourself of a great pleasure just because you want to be “mainstream.”

  7. palina 18.Apr.09 at 9:16 pm

    I read both books a while ago, when they first came out…I was impressed with both until both father and son seemed to “sell out” for lack of a better term. I also knew, after catching a glimse of an interview a few months ago, that Nic was still using, and this took all credibility away. I lost respect for Nic for still trying to make money promoting his story when he was obviously high, and for David for either allowing that, or still being oblivious. Now they just annoy me.

  8. hzimet 19.Apr.09 at 10:31 am

    I read tweak first too
    i have to disagree completely
    i enjoyed both books greatly
    and i find nic sheff an inspiration
    i recommend both books

  9. amyabts 19.Apr.09 at 11:10 am

    It’s not the fact that they are “mainstream” books, it’s the fact that this is a personal story made very public by over-marketing.
    I also know many addicts and have visited treatment centers myself to visit people in treatment, so I am familiar with addiction and addicts.


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