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From the team that brought you the New York Times bestselling Dry comes a riveting new thriller that proves when gods play games, even love is a lie.

The freeway is coming.

It will cut the neighborhood in two. Construction has already started, pushing toward this corridor of condemned houses and cracked concrete with the momentum of the inevitable. Yet there you are, in the fifth house on the left, fighting for your life.

Ramey, I.

The victim of the bet between two manufactured gods: the seductive and lethal Roxy (Oxycontin), who is at the top of her game, and the smart, high-achieving Addison (Adderall), who is tired of being the helpful one, and longs for a more dangerous, less wholesome image. The wager—a contest to see who can bring their mark to “the Party” first—is a race to the bottom of a rave that has raged since the beginning of time. And you are only human, dazzled by the lights and music. Drawn by what the drugs offer—tempted to take that step past helpful to harmful…and the troubled places that lie beyond.

But there are two I. Rameys—Isaac, a soccer player thrown into Roxy’s orbit by a bad fall and a bad doctor and Ivy, his older sister, whose increasing frustration with her untreated ADHD leads her to renew her acquaintance with Addy.

Which one are you?

Chapter 1: Naloxone 1 Naloxone
I am no superhero. But I can save you from the one who claims to be.

I am no wizard. But I cast a spell that can bring back the dead.

Almost.

And never often enough.

I am, if nothing else, your final defense—your last hope when hope itself has spiraled into that singularity that crushes not just you, but everyone around you.

And so here we are, you and I. The scene is set. Never identical, yet always the same:

Today it’s a room in a house on a street that was born when dreams were milky-white appliances, and cars were like landlocked ships, too proud to ever be slung with seat belts.

This was once suburbia, but it was long ago consumed by a gelatinous urban tsunami. The neighborhood struggles and sometimes even thrives. But this street? This street is dead. It has been sacrificed for the greater good.

The trees on either side have already been taken down, their trunks turned into firewood, their limbs fed into a chipper. Most doors and windows have been stripped and salvaged, leaving the homes with the deadest of eyes and gaping, silent mouths. Nearly a mile of this. And just beyond are bulldozers and rubble, and beyond that, towering concrete pillars reach skyward like the columns of an ancient temple.

Because a freeway is coming. A six-lane corridor that will cleave the neighborhood in half, right along this very street, in a brutal rite of passage called eminent domain.

When night falls, the doomed street is engulfed more completely than anywhere else in the city.

And there you are. In the fifth house on the left.

You’re not from this part of town, but somehow you found this place, drawn by darkness so dense you can wrap it around yourself like a blanket.

Now flashlights illuminate a familiar tableau. One officer, two paramedics. And me.

A medic leans over you—presses a finger to your neck.

“Hard to find a pulse,” she says. “If it’s there, it’s weak.”

This room was once a bedroom. But there’s no bed, no dresser. All that remains is a warped desk and a broken chair that no one deemed worth saving. You lie on carpet mottled with mold that has left it looking like a wall-to-wall bruise. It is the very epicenter of abandoned hope.

“I can’t detect any breathing. Beginning CPR.”

Rats would complete the scene, but vector control has already been here with some of my more vicious cousins to kill the vermin. But they can’t get rid of the roaches no matter how hard they try. They are the victors of this world, the roaches. Truly undefeatable.

You, on the other hand, are defeated. How defeated is yet to be seen.

Thirty chest compressions, two rescue breaths. Repeat.

The other medic prepares me for what I’ve come to do, while the officer gives a description of you on his radio. They don’t know who you are. I don’t know who you are either—but soon you and I will be close. I will be inside you. A kind of intimacy neither of us wants but both of us need. It is, after all, my purpose. And you? You have no choice.

“Administering the naloxone.”

“Make sure you get the muscle.”

“I never miss.”

The needle plunges deep in your left thigh—and I surge forth into muscle tissue, searching for capillaries that will carry me to larger and larger vessels. And yes—you’re still alive! I do hear your heartbeat! Slow, faint, but there!

I ride the long sluggish wave of your beat into the chambers of your heart, and out again, up and up toward your brain. Only there can I save you. I will rip you free of the hold they have over you.

They.

The others. Who care for you only as long as they have you locked in their embrace, as if you are nothing more than a child’s tattered toy. They do not know love—only possession. They promise you deliverance and reward you… with this:

Thirty compressions, two breaths. And me.

It is you, and those like you, who gave them power, and continue to give them power day after day. Because who but you can generate current enough to feed the bright flashing lights of their eternal Party? How could you not see that the others—my brutal cousins—are the cancer at the core of seduction? The void at the heart of your craving? They see themselves as gods, but in the end they are just like me. Nothing but chemicals. In complex combinations, perhaps, but still no more than tinctures, distillations, and petty pharma. Chemicals designed by nature, or by man, to tweak your chemicals.

If they live, it is only because you gave them life. As well as the license to end yours. And if they act in roles beyond their purpose, it is only because you placed them upon the stage to perform.

Thus the stage has been set. The audience cool and dispassionate—waiting to be entertained but too jaded to believe it ever will be.

But we must try, must we not?

And so here, between the chest compressions and the lifesaving breaths, I will do my part, struggling to wrest your fate back from the capricious “gods.”

I am no superhero. I am no wizard. But I can save you. Although half of the time I don’t. Too often I am too late. Victory and tragedy will forever fight for purchase on this stage.

And today the dimming footlights find tragedy.

Your heart begins to fibrillate. Then it seizes like a furious fist… and then releases. The wave is gone. I can’t do my work if I can’t get to your brain. Still, the medics keep working CPR, but it will not change the fact that you have surrendered your life in the bruised room of the rotting house, on the street that will soon be gone.

They tag your toe with the last name on your ID, and your first initial:

Ramey, I.

Then they wheel you out, and I have little left to do but settle in your veins—one more chemical to parse in the autopsy.

And I curse the others.

My soulless clan who brought you to the Party, then left you in this desolate place, where even those who tried to save you are too world-weary to shed a single tear.

If I had a voice, I swear to you I would tell your story. At least enough of it so that I might know who you are.
A Reading Group Guide to

Roxy

By Neal Shusterman and Jarrod Shusterman​

About the Book

Who do you picture when you hear the phrase “drug addict”? Odds are you have a lot of preconceived notions. But if the drugs could talk, they would tell you that anyone could become an addict, and everyone is invited to the party: clean-cut high school athletes, polite debutantes, the quiet nerd who is on track to become valedictorian, the person sitting next to you, and even you.

As the drug du jour, Roxy knows how easy it is to make someone desire her. She knows just how to get a foothold into someone’s life, and exactly what to say and do to become the most important thing to them. At first, Isaac is no different; Roxy is perfectly happy to bring him to the party and pass him along to Hiro. But when Addison wagers that he can bring Isaac’s sister, Ivy, all the way to the end of the line before Roxy can do so with Isaac, everything changes. Suddenly Isaac takes on new importance, and before Roxy knows it, she loves him. But is that even possible? Does she have the capacity to care for anyone anymore?

Discussion Questions

1. How do the chapter headings and the phrases hidden within them help to further the story? What insights do they bring? Do you think this method is more effective than giving the information within the chapter itself?

2. Much of the story is told from the points of view of the drugs themselves. Why do you think the authors chose to tell the story this way? Does it change how you view drug abuse and addiction? Would your feelings have changed if the story had only been told from Ivy’s and Isaac’s points of view? Explain your answers.

3. Some of the drugs in this story are genuinely needed and helpful. What turns medically necessary drug use into abuse? Discuss factors like overprescribing and casual use. Even over-the-counter medications can be overused and abused. Can you think of a time you took aspirin or ibuprofen when you really didn’t need it?

4. “Believing something that you know is not true is Ivy’s superpower.” When do we see evidence of this superpower? Is it a strength or a weakness? Do any of the other human characters have “superpowers”?

5. Roxy says, “Addison and I came up together. Different family lines, but similar circumstances. Born to help others, rather than help ourselves. The problem with Addison is that he never outgrew that stifling idealism.” Is this true of other drugs we meet in this book, that they were born to help others? Why does Roxy find the idea of helping others stifling? How does Addison feel?

6. What does it signify in the real world when Roxy and Addison lose their plus-ones to someone further up their lines? Why does this happen so frequently? Why is Addison so desperate to keep someone for himself?

7. Why is Ivy doing so poorly in school? Do you think the cause lies within her, or is it the fault of the school system or something else? Why is she originally so opposed to accepting Addison’s help?

8. Why does Grandma give Isaac that first pill? Why does Isaac continue to take the pills? Grandma doesn’t think her actions will have long-term effects. Can you think of an instance in your life where good intentions were misguided?

9. How does Mary Jane becoming legal in many places affect how the other drugs view her? Does it change the way the general population thinks of her? How does her journey from illicit to medically sanctioned substance—the opposite of Roxy’s and Addison’s path—affect how she is perceived and used?

10. What happens in the VIP room at the Party? Why do so many people want to go there? Why do you think they are ignoring or misunderstanding the party’s repercussions? How do the other drugs react when Naloxone shows up?

11. What are the warning signs that Isaac is becoming addicted? Why is he able to ignore them? Why do the other people in his life, including his parents, his sister, and most of his friends, not notice the signs? Do you think the outcome would have been any different if they had?

12. In what ways are Ivy and Isaac treated differently by their parents? What effect does this have on Ivy’s behavior? Do you think their attitude toward her makes it easier for them to recognize her abuse of Addison? Does Isaac share his parents’ view of Ivy?

13. Why does Grandma refuse morphine at the hospital? Is it for the same reasons the other drugs don’t like having Phineas around? How does Phineas feel about the work he does?

14. What happened to ’Lude? Why do the other drugs view him as a sort of boogeyman? What other drugs are imprisoned above the party with him? Have you heard of any of these drugs before? Do you know why any of them were deemed too dangerous to exist?

15. How does Roxy change Isaac’s life? What does he do in order to get more time with her? What does he give up?

16. Ivy reaches a point where she realizes that Isaac is keeping secrets. Why does it take her so long to come to this conclusion? What happens when she tries to reach out to him? Are there things in their past that get in the way of their making a connection now?

17. What is it about Isaac that makes him so special to Roxy? How is this different from her feelings about other plus-ones? How does she envision their future together? What does Roxy learn as Isaac overdoses, and what does it mean to their relationship? What does this pattern suggest about Roxy’s capacity to care about the people she brings to the party?

18. When Isaac was young and used to sneak cookies, his parents always knew because “Isaac himself would either tell them, or telegraph. He’d leave crumbs. He’d leave the lid slightly ajar. At the time, he thought it was just carelessness, but later he came to know that part of him did these things on purpose. Because crimes should not go unpunished. And secrets needed to get out.” Does he leave these same clues for his parents to telegraph his dependence on pills? Why doesn’t he end up telling his parents about Roxy? Do his crimes go unpunished?

19. What does the glamorous façade of the party cover up? Why do both the drugs and their plus-ones buy into the illusion?

20. Ricky promised not to betray Isaac’s trust and not to tell Isaac’s parents. Trust and responsibility have a delicate balance. At what point would you betray the trust of a best friend? What did Ricky believe about Isaac that allowed him to trust Isaac could handle his betrayal?

21. What is it about Addison that made him decide to save Ivy instead of allowing her to overdose? How do the other drugs view his actions?

22. Why does Isaac think he can beat his addiction alone? What do the events that follow tell you about the nature of these drugs? Has there ever been a time when you thought you could overcome something alone, but then realized you needed help?

23. What do Isaac and Ivy know about these drugs at the start of the book? What did you know about these drugs before you read this book? Have Isaac’s and Ivy’s stories changed your understanding?

Extension Activities

1. Many different drugs are mentioned in the book, and often the relationships between them are highlighted; for example, OxyContin is related to both heroin and morphine. Make a list, chart, or spreadsheet with all the drugs that are named in the book, as well as their clinical names. Choose one of the drugs to research further, finding out what it was originally used for, the physiological effects on the body, and the signs of addiction. How many people are addicted to the drug, and how many people die of that addiction every year? Discuss why drug education is important.

2. Is there a group in your school or community that helps those susceptible to or struggling with addiction? Perhaps there is an addiction hotline, a mentoring program, or an after-school group. Contact one of these places to learn how you can use your time and talents to help.

3. In Interlude #6, it is revealed that Ivy slips a letter into Isaac’s coffin. This letter, never to be read, says that she will go to rehab and break the chains that drug addiction has on her—something Isaac couldn’t do for himself. Write the letter that Ivy places in Isaac’s coffin as her final goodbye and her promise to get clean.

4. Until he was injured, soccer was Isaac’s ticket to college and eventually a career. Discuss the kind of pressure Isaac was under, and the trajectory that led him to abuse drugs. Do you know anyone like Isaac? Research statistics of teen OxyContin use, and how often it’s prescribed for sports-related injuries. How can you make your community more aware of this problem?

5. The chapter headings in this book are a form of poetry, finding new words using just some of the letters of a longer word or phrase. Try your hand at blackout poetry, where you take a page from a book or magazine and cover up the words you don’t want until the ones that remain create a poem.

6. Ivy finds comfort in the paintings of Van Gogh, both because of their appearance and because of what she knows about his life. Research Van Gogh and write a short report about his life and his struggles with mental illness. Van Gogh did his best work when in recovery. His genius was not because of his mental illness; it was in spite of it. How was his art received during his lifetime?

Research the interesting history of Van Gogh’s painting, Vase with Carnations. Listen to Malcolm Gladwell’s podcast episode for more information. “Revisionist History,” Season 5, Episode 2—Hedwig’s Lost Van Gogh: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6HhgzSEce_c

Guide written by Cory Grimminck, Director of the Portland District Library in Michigan.

This guide has been provided by Simon & Schuster for classroom, library, and reading group use. It may be reproduced in its entirety or excerpted for these purposes. For more Simon & Schuster guides and classroom materials, please visit simonandschuster.net or thebookpantry.net.
(c) Gaby Gerster

Neal Shusterman is the New York Times bestselling author of more than thirty award-winning books for children, teens, and adults, including the Unwind dystology, the Skinjacker trilogy, Downsiders, and Challenger Deep, which won the National Book Award. Scythe, the first book in his latest series, Arc of a Scythe, is a Michael L. Printz Honor Book. He also writes screenplays for motion pictures and television shows. Neal is the father of four, all of whom are talented writers and artists themselves. Visit Neal at StoryMan.com and Facebook.com/NealShusterman.

Photo (c) unknown

Jarrod Shusterman is the New York Times bestselling coauthor of Dry. He has a passion for storytelling across many mediums, with love and multiculturalism as an ethos. Jarrod writes and directs with his partner Sofia, under their company Dos Lobos Entertainment. Together they enjoy traveling the world and learning new languages, living between Los Angeles and Spain. They can be found on Instagram @DosLobosMedia.

"The novel feels like a stage drama from the tense first chapter to the tragic end...[p]owerful and chilling."

– Kirkus Reviews

"This allegorical take on the opioid epidemic provides an utterly unique point of view on the lives of those struggling with drug dependencies. Surprisingly, this approach does not water down the stark realities besetting Ivy and Isaac as they sink into addiction. Rather, it captures the drugs’ allure, from granting small benefits and initial highs, before taking the reader through the horrible spiral that addiction can entail. Gritty and unflinching, this book portrays the opioid crisis in a way older YA readers can feel and understand."

– Booklist

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