Recovery Road, written by Blake Nelson, is one of my favorite books. I randomly picked it up at the local library one day, drawn to the front cover decorated with a heart formed by pills. The novel touched me, it was written very honestly, and seemed to truly understand what it was like to be a teenage girl struggling with addiction and dealing with complicated and messy relationships. It was one of those rare books that you cried while reading, because there was such a deep connection with Maddie’s story. It’s definitely up there with Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, and also Between Shades of Grey, written by Ruta Sepetys.
I was pleasantly surprised when I heard the news that Recovery Road had been turned into a T.V show, but unfortunately when I looked more closely I couldn’t shake off a feeling that it wouldn’t be able to do the book justice. It’s common knowledge that major fans of a book will rarely be happy with the film or television adaptation, but I would consider myself able to differentiate between a good film or show and a badly made one. A self-described pop-culture fanatic and film snob, I stay far away from those typical teen shows where all the actors are playing teens but are actually 25 years old and stunningly gorgeous. I detest the glossy programs like Pretty Little Liars, Vampire Diaries, and Teen Wolf, which seem to insult the viewer’s intelligence, and make it all seem so surface with a layer of sparkles and shine.
The one positive thing I can say after watching the pilot episode of Recovery Road, was the acting by Jessica Sula and the characterization of her character, as well the diversity within the show. It is rare to see a lead played by a person of colour, even in 2016, most black characters are either playing a minor role or supporting the white lead, or are playing the token slave (12 Years a Slave), or housekeeper of sorts (The Help). It is very difficult to get representation of people of colour in the film and television industry, and Recovery Road doesn’t conform to that. Maddie is portrayed is mixed-race, Trish is African American, and the actor who plays Wes is played by Sebastian De Souza, who is of Portuguese-Indian descent. Also, the acting of Jessica Sula is quite captivating, and she seems to embody the very essence of Maddie.
Recovery Road was picked up by ABC family, so you know that it is unfortunately not going to be a gritty/vulnerable/alternative interpretation of the book, which in my mind was already quirky and unique. Because of the target audience (teenage girls) and the network, it seems to be too glossy and contrived. Shallow is the word that comes to mind. It doesn’t seem to do a very effective job of differentiating itself from the likes of Pretty Little Liars or Baby Daddy or Vampire Diaries. The actors are all attractive, even the settings, especially the rehab facility look unreal, literally like the set of a TV show. There is no grime, there is nothing that shows what it would really be like, it looks like an interior designer was hired to make it look flawless, as opposed to showing the reality of what life is really like. Even the costume choices for all the characters look fake.
The show has been getting good reviews, though there has not been much hype about it, most likely just due to the newness of the show. The general consensus is that the character of Maddie is what makes the show different from the rest, even though the production is criticized (being compared to late period 7th Heaven), the plot is considered to predictable and expected, and too much like an after school special.