cover image Placebo Junkies

Placebo Junkies

J.C. Carleson. Knopf, $17.99 (304p) ISBN 978-0-553-49724-3

Teenage Audie and her roommates make rent by serving as human test subjects. In their world, “your value lies in your blood, your waste, and your mitochondrial minutiae,” and Audie is trying “to squeeze every possible cent” out of the system in order to take her cancer-stricken boyfriend on a dream vacation for his birthday. When Audie starts several test drugs at the same time, life gets muddled, and it becomes increasingly hard for her to sort fantasy from reality. A somewhat jarring twist arrives two-thirds of the way into the story, but Audie—a chatty, clever narrator with a twisted sense of humor—grounds the story even as it changes gears. Carleson (The Tyrant’s Daughter) gives Audie believable motivation for undergoing tests that range from practice gynecological exams to taking psilocybin (“Once you get the chance to control your own fate, set your own schedule, it’s too hard to give it back), while raising challenging questions about medicine, ethics, and the true cost of big breakthroughs. Ages 14–up. Agent: Jessica Regel, Foundry Literary + Media. (Oct.)