Beautiful Boy Summary

David Sheff

Beautiful Boy

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Beautiful Boy Summary

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Beautiful Boy is a poignant memoir from award-winning writer David Sheff. Sheff was a well-known journalist even before the publication of this novel, and his attention to craft, truth and exploration—the same skills he brings to his journalistic writing—can be found within this personal memoir as well. Beautiful Boy is all the more moving in that it details Sheff’s personal narrative of battling with his own son’s substance abuse. Many people view addiction and recovery as an entirely personal matter. Sheff, however, shows that addiction does not just affect the addicted individual, but those around the individual as well. The narrative highlights how, in reality, it is more than one person suffering from addiction, and more than one person attempting to recover and find a sense of normalcy after the revelation of addiction.

David’s son, Nic, suffered immensely from his addition. Nic’s addiction and attempts at recovery, which are the subject of Nic’s own book, Tweak, are entirely personal and something that he continues to struggle with to this day. His “fall from grace” as a confused teenager, and subsequent experimentation with drugs as a coping mechanism, is wholly heartbreaking. As a journalist, however, David knew that he needed to investigate his son’s condition without softening the view, to explore his son’s life and options with the same lens he casts onto his other work, the “subjects” of his investigative journalism. In doing so with Beautiful Boy, which is actually the continuation of a New York Times Magazine article he wrote on the subject, David provides an intimate, often heartbreaking work that details a family’s attempt at dealing with once unthinkable demons.

In the narrative, David recounts how Nic seemed to have a charmed life while growing up. He was both intelligent and athletic, marking him as one of those young adults who seem to be excellent at anything and everything that he or she does. From all accounts, Nic would go on to achieve great things. Yet as he grew older, he fell victim to a common dilemma during adolescence: angst. Based on this period of confusion, Nic turned from a curious child with undeniable potential to a sullen teenager whose misplaced curiosity brought him to the threshold of illicit drugs. At the age of seventeen, he began abusing alcohol, as well as mind-and mood-altering drugs. In no time, his drug use turned into drug abuse—the pills that were meant to be mood stabilizers and enhancers turned into a way of life for Nic, and he became a teenage addict.

When David finally became aware of his son’s addiction, Nic had moved on from “softer” drugs and become fully addicted to meth. Though it seemed at times that Nic was doomed to suffer in silence from his demons, David was willing to risk everything, even having his teenage son never speak to him again, just to get Nic the help he needed. While Nic struggled to rid himself of his addiction, David and the rest of the family, including his second wife and two younger children, faced the realities of dealing with Nic’s addiction firsthand. David chronicles how, as a parent, he first dealt with denial concerning his son’s addiction. After the denial came a trying period of acceptance that included “grasping at straws” as far as how to help Nic. It was during this time that David put his journalistic skills to good use and researched addiction. His insistence on fact and details allowed him to find ways of helping his son, and he familiarized himself with the literature available on addiction and the best ways to approach the matter. From this point of acceptance and moving forward, David then had to deal with the resistance of a son who did not want to get better, initially.

As a memoir on addiction, Beautiful Boy details the pain and betrayal that envelops a family dealing with a loved one suffering from a horrible reality. David is quick to point out that addiction is a disease, first and foremost, and should be treated as such. To this end, it does not help anyone to tiptoe around the issue. By opening himself and his family up to the reader’s view in this way, David shows just how terrifying the journey to recovery is for everyone involved. More importantly, however, David’s willingness to document his son’s struggle with addiction provides insight and hope for others, especially those dealing with addiction themselves or a loved one suffering from the disease. David also shows how facts and details—knowledge—is far more important than fear, doubt or denial. In the end, the narrative shows that though the journey to and through addiction might be heartbreaking, the subsequent journey to recovery, though wrought with pain and potential setbacks, can be hopeful, life-affirming and entirely rewarding.