Book Review: “South on Highland”

“I was fourteen the first time I tried stimulants, alone in my bedroom with the door locked and a Sex Pistols CD playing on a loop”.

Above is the opening line of Liana Maeby’s 2015 novel, South on Highland. If that doesn’t intrigue you, then we probably can’t be friends, and also you probably wouldn’t enjoy this book. However, if it does, then read on…

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The protagonist, partially based on Maeby herself, is Leila Massey, a gifted writer who begins to spiral into drug and alcohol addiction. The first part of the book describes how her casual use of Adderall in high school to get better grades eventually led to her snorting the ADHD medication daily, and ultimately to snorting cocaine regularly by her senior year of high school. The second part of the book describes her ascent to success as a screenwriter in L.A., but also her descent into serious drug addiction after she is exposed to painkillers and ultimately heroin at a disturbing drug commune in the desert. In the final portion of the book, Leila enters rehab.

Leila is a perceptive and relatable narrator who simultaneously describes her life with raw sincerity and dark humor. She is paradoxically self-aware and has no idea who she is, which is something that really resonated with me (and I’m sure most other 20-somethings). What I loved most about this novel is that Leila never feels guilty or blames herself for the many mistakes she makes. As my brilliant therapist always tells me: there is a difference between acceptance and approval. Leila’s character is a wonderful example of that axiom personified.

Bottom line: South on Highland is an inventive and heartfelt story about a woman’s search for her identity, with lots of drugs, sex, Hollywood parties, and trashed hotel rooms along the way.

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