At 23 years old, James is brought by his parents to a drug and alcohol rehabilitation center in Minnesota to get treatment for his alcoholism and drug addictions. Physically and emotionally shattered, he slowly recuperates, sometimes insistently conquering his addictions with his own willpower, and at other times with the help of those around him. The consequences of his addictions, his struggle against the platitudes of the Twelve Step programs, and his relationships with his counselors build the tension in the book; his relationship with his family and several of his fellow addicts forms the heart of it.


James Frey writes this memoir in punchy little sentences, unpunctuated except for periods and question marks, with very few commas and no quotation marks for speech. It has some of the repetitive quality and accumulative force of a long prose poem, and it also has the repetitive quality of drugs, each hit like the last (but still with the force of a hit). The burly, in-your-face quality matches the narrator's aggression and anger, which may not be appealing to all, but the machismo of the style also permits a striking honesty, and Frey's descriptions of addiction and withdrawal are all the more powerful for it.

This book is an important addition to the literature on alcoholism and drug addiction, partly because it is so unsparing in chronicling the vicissitudes of withdrawal and recovery, and partly because of its uncompromising style. At his most effective, Frey describes with gut-wrenching immediacy the experience of pain, whether it is in the dentist's chair undergoing dental repair without anaesthesia or painkillers; the agonies of withdrawal; or the emotional pain he always wanted to blank out with drugs and alcohol. Of note, this memoir also challenges the premises of faith in and the dogma of the Twelve Step program; the challenge is not unflawed, but is often effective.

1/27/06. Editorial note: Since this annotation was first written James Frey has been accused of fabricating significant material appearing in A Million Little Pieces and My Friend Leonard. The author subsequently admitted that episodes in these books never took place or were exaggerated or changed. Hence there is a question whether the books can be classified as memoirs.




Nan A. Talese

Place Published

New York



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