ARC review: The Temptation of Adam by Dave Connis

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Adam Hawthorne is fine, except when he’s not.  After his mother walked out on and took his sister with her, Adam’s father focused all of his energy on getting her back.  Adam focused all of his energy on porn.  Because it distracted him.  Because it made him feel numb.  Now, newly suspended from school and with a porn addiction that’s out of control, Adam has been ordered to meet with his nemesis, Mr. Cratcher, every morning for counseling.

Elderly chemistry teacher Colin Cratcher leads an addiction support group dubbed the “Knights of Vice.”  His kids meet a few times each week to check in and hold each other accountable for their actions.  Through the KOV, Adam finally begins to reconnect with the outside world, realize he has a problem, and move toward recovery.

As with many other YA books I’ve read this summer, I found out about The Temptation of Adam through the 2017 Debut Author Challenge.  It was on Netgalley – as a Read Now, no less – and I decided to dive in the same night that I downloaded it.  Aside from the basics – that it’s about a teenage boy trying to overcome a porn addiction – I didn’t know too much about the book going in.

YA books that tackle “issues” have taken center stage recently.  It’s not uncommon to read about YA characters who have problems with drugs, alcohol, or even sex.  But a YA character dealing with a porn addiction? That’s a new one for me.  Initially, I wondered if Connis would be able to pull off a book about a porn addiction while still keeping it at a YA level.

Overall, he succeeded.  I think, especially in today’s world, that the topic of porn addiction is an important one for teens.  I’m not that old, but when I was Adam’s age, we didn’t walk around with smartphones in our pockets.  You couldn’t whip out your phone and Google “free porn” – and if you could, you’d easily pay $100 for the privilege of briefly viewing a pixelated image on your two-inch screen.  Today’s kids have the world at their fingertips.  I can easily imagine Adam’s story happening in any high school.

Adam’s love interest, Dez, is a girl addicted to addiction.  She constantly flits between vices: drugs, alcohol, theft, and yes, even porn.  I applaud Connis for including a female with a porn addiction (however temporary it may have been) and for having said female character call Adam out when he said that girls don’t watch porn.

In general, though, Dez’s character bothered me.  When she’s accused by the KOV as being a “manic pixie dream girl,” she vehemently rejects the label.  But the thing is, she is a manic pixie dream girl.  I couldn’t tell whether this was intentional or not, but simply having your character reject a label doesn’t make it incorrect when their entire personality says otherwise.

While the first half (give or take) of the book revolves around Adam’s counseling sessions with Mr. Cratcher, his meetings with the KOV, and heart-to-hearts with his family, the second half oddly switches gears as Mr. Cratcher is hospitalized and the kids decide to take a road trip to uncover part of his life story.

Now, first of all, am I really supposed to believe that these kids who come to love Mr. Cratcher like a grandpa would take a spontaneous road trip when they know he might not survive?  Second, what set of parents lets a group of troubled teens take an unsupervised trip from Seattle to Nashville?  Third, have any of the doctors in this fictional hospital ever heard of HIPAA?  Because, just FYI, a doctor cannot walk out to the waiting room and tell a bunch of random kids about a patient’s medical history and previous treatments.  That’s a $100,000 fine minimum.  Just saying.

Another question I have is regarding Mr. Cratcher’s credentials.  Adam is accused (wrongfully, in my opinion) of a rather serious crime.  This is what results in his suspension.  I’m still unclear on what qualifies Mr. Cratcher to counsel him rather than, say, a licensed therapist or actual doctor.  Also, if there was such a heavy accusation, I’m unclear on why the police weren’t involved.  That’s not to say that Mr. Cratcher fails to get through to him, but it surprised me that this was even an option.

Now, I read an advance, uncorrected copy of this book, so take this paragraph with a grain of salt.  This might change in the final copy.  I’m not going to get into spelling or grammar mistakes.  Those will obviously be taken care of prior to actual publication.  I will say that, for me, there were two glaring errors.  First was Christmas. It happens twice, once at home and again in Nashville.  The second is Adam’s claim that his sister Addy is fluent in Spanish, which is backed up by her saying the absolutely nonsensical and ungrammatical “Tu tengo grande cojones,” which made me physically shudder.

But moving on from the negatives, there’s a line in twenty one pilots’ Fall Away that gets me every time:

I’m dying and I’m trying
But believe me I’m fine
But I’m lying
I’m so very far from fine

I think this line, and all the emotion behind it, perfectly encapsulate Adam’s struggle with his addiction.  Adam repeatedly tells himself that he’s fine. That he could stop at any time. That’s it’s not like he couldn’t function if he didn’t have porn.  That it’s just something to pass the time.  But deep down, he knows that’s a lie. He’s drowning in his addiction and he doesn’t even know how to begin to fight it.

And I, I can feel the pull begin
Feel my conscience wearing thin
And my skin
It will start
To break up and fall apart

Every time that Adam tries to stop watching porn, he’s drawn back in.  He’ll be doing fine, but an argument or another stressor in his life will send him running for the comfort until he feels like he might actually die if he doesn’t fulfill his urge.  I don’t often connect books to songs, but these fit so well together.

Anyway, The Temptation of Adam is a solid YA debut.  I didn’t enjoy it quite as much as I expected to, and at times it feels a little off, but it holds an important message and I wouldn’t be surprised if Connis went on to do great things.

Final rating: ★★★☆☆

I received a free ARC of The Temptation of Adam from the publisher (via Netgalley) in exchange for my honest opinion.