Review of The Scavenger, by J. L. Willow
The Scavenger is a YA coming-of-age story that revolves around four primary characters: Catherine, Samuel, Frank, and Nathan. After a series of teens OD, Nathan, an NYPD investigator, works to find the culprit dealing a new, deadly strain of marijuana. Meanwhile, Frank, a long-time drug dealer, already has his next client in his sights. He uses Samuel to peddle the drugs to high schoolers. Their next target? None other than Catherine.
I had two key issues with The Scavenger: structure and believability. The Scavenger follows four different first-person POVs and a random third-person POV of two of the characters it’s already following. The narrative never stays with any one character long enough for the reader to connect. The short chapters mean we’re switching characters too quickly. If the book had an additional 100 pages or so, this might be less of an issue for me. Each character had an intriguing history that was mostly hinted at instead of really fleshed out.
The book’s plot, the catalyst of ODs leading to the climax, is believable and a good subject to work with. However, believability stops with the drug causing the ODs: marijuana. While marijuana can cause dependency in some young individuals, it’s not widely considered addictive. Also, according to the DEA, there has never been a marijuana overdose. Technically, the marijuana in The Scavenger is a new, high-THC strain laced with cocaine. Ingesting a high content of THC does have side effects, including increased anxiety and paranoia, lethargy, hunger, cotton mouth, sleepiness—generally the effects of smoking a blunt. Of course, lacing marijuana with cocaine does make a dangerous combination because it stresses the heart, but it’s questionable as to if that would increase addiction. A healthy teen would have to smoke a lot (a lot) of cocaine-laced marijuana to OD.
(Side note: Cocaine isn’t invisible, so the buyer would be able to see that the weed was laced)
Having said that, if you suspend your belief (or have never really dealt with drugs) then this won’t be a problem. It wasn’t enough of a problem for me to put the book down and, as I said, it’s a good premise overall.
The Scavenger is easy to read. It’s well written and the relationship between Catherine and Samuel screams “teenage hormone-driven relationship.” There are great moments throughout the book and if this is J.L. Willow’s first novel, then I can only see her work getting better and better.