There is a specific kind of way people look at you when they learn you're from Ohio. It's a look I've learned well, having spent my formative years in Cleveland and my college years in rural central Ohio. As the opioid epidemic has pushed its way into headlines over the past few years, that "you're from Ohio?" look has become an increasingly curious one, full of questions about what it was like growing up at the center of a drug crisis. And to be honest, I often want to push these five novels that illustrate the complexities of the opioid epidemic into a person's hands instead. Because these books take readers through narrative-driven journeys deep into the heart of the problem. And they say what many of us can't - or don't want to.
The last time I was home in Cleveland, I was talking with my brother about "the look." My brother, who has spent time all across the United States, knew the look, too, and the questions that often come with it.
There's a responsibility, too, to serve as an expert voice on the matter, simply because of where you were born. But how do you articulate the kind of devastating, numbing boredom that thrives in communities cut off from economic opportunities? How do you describe the generations-deep trauma that poisons entire branches of a family tree? These novels manage to bring words to these experiences, and illustrate the unnameable pain of the opioid addiction.