The Wild Side, by Janet Balcombe

Sitting in prison on a raft of charges including kidnapping, guns, drugs and counterfeiting was quite different to the plan Janet Balcombe imagined for her life. The ‘hardcore’ meth-addict took herself to the very brink of death and hell. It nearly killed her, but she got her answers and discovered there is hope for the broken.

The Wild Side is Janet’s life story of her journey – from her feral meth-addiction and relationship with a meth cook, to her restored religious life in rural Northland. It was a finalist in the Ashton Wylie Charitable Trust Book Awards in 2015.

Janet bares her soul and opens up her world to the reader with raw, vulnerable detail. As Janet makes the same mistakes time and time again, failing to break the cycle, it is absolutely heartbreaking. It is gripping and an incredibly interesting read, for the first half of the book. As the story moves into her recovery phase, it starts to rapidly lose appeal.

For me, as an atheist, I just couldn’t get in to the book from that point on. It feels like she has traded an addiction to hardcore drugs for an addiction of religion and spirituality. While that may not be a problem for some, for me the constant quoting of the scripture bored me and, in the end, irritated me.

She gives little credit to her family, especially her father who picked her up at her absolute lowest point – lying on the floor with no energy to get up and fed her son or look after herself – and nursed her back to health. After finishing her story, it also made me angry that there is absolutely no mention of the medical (including mental health) resources that are available to people who are going through the same thing as Balcombe.

While it is an important story to be told, it limits its potential to help others in similar situations because of the excessive preaching.

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Rebekah is an Otago-based mother of two young girls. The former journalist and primary school teacher has a soft spot for New Zealand authors and young adult fiction. Follow her on Twitter.

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