‘Finding Ecstasy‘ is the sobering debut novel by Norman Fox. It’s about growing up as an intensely closeted teenager and engaging in high-risk activities. It’s about the double-lives of a group of A-grade high school students who discover the underground Sydney dance party scene of the late 1980s. It’s about mental health, drug addiction and taking one too many pills.
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Entertaining and thought provoking ...
Before I get into the review of ‘Finding ecstasy’, I have to make a few disclosures.
Firstly, the author is my partner of over 15 years.
Secondly, I edited this book and I am also an adviser on the social media campaign accompanying its publication.
Having had a strong involvement with this book (and its author) I do think it is an exhilarating read, as it deals with a variety of controversial and ‘taboo’ subjects, from bullying to homophobia and from teenage alcohol and drug use to mental illness.
The book is based on a true story. The story of a closeted, young gay boy growing up in Sydney’s eastern suburbs in the 1980s. His trials and tribulations in high school, his discovery of Sydney’s emerging dance party scene, his struggle with, and the exploration of, his sexuality and his use of alcohol and drugs in search of a ‘good time’ and as a coping mechanism to dull the fear and confusion.
The book raises a number of significant cultural and social issues, relating to how bullying is managed (or ignored) in our schools. How young gays, lesbians and transgender manage to survive in schools where they are often confronted with verbal and physical expressions of homophobia. And our attitudes towards alcohol and drug use by young people, and mental illness.
In my mind the book raises questions about the effectiveness of the legal framework in place designed to deal with bullying, homophobia, discrimination and drugs.
Admittedly, in Australia, we have legal protections in place to protect young gays, lesbians and transgender from bullying, homophobia and discrimination, but have we yet achieved the right culture where such actions are not just illegal but also truly culturally unacceptable? I would argue that the higher than average suicide rate of gays, lesbians and transgender is clear evidence to the contrary. Of course, these days there are also many wonderful community organisations that work very hard to address these issues, such as ‘Wear It Purple‘.
As for our current drug policy framework, are they even remotely appropriate for a real world situation? Is the current policy focusing on ‘prohibition’ working at all? And if we accept the assertion that they have failed, why do we insist continuing with a failed policy? Is it appropriate to continue to deal with drugs as a ‘law and order’ issue or should the matter be treated as a health and education issue instead?
Obviously, I don’t have the public health expertise to answer these questions, but we have many experts who have come forward in recent years and recommended significant changes in respect of how we handle these issues culturally, socially and legally.
‘Finding ecstasy’ is a timely reminder that teenage decisions and behaviours are often irrational and innately risky. The book does not purport to provide solutions to these complex cultural, social and legal issues. However, it is an honest, and consequently sometimes shocking, real life account of the circumstances and triggers that lead to risky teen behaviours, including drug use.
Without truly understanding these circumstances and triggers, we are just stumbling around in the dark to find workable solutions, while young people continue to be the victims of bullying, drugs and homophobia.
The book is also a warning tale of how quickly the ‘good times’ can spiral out of control by virtue of a random chance combination of questionable drug quality and personal susceptibility, or the loss of control and decent into addiction.
I sincerely hope that ‘Finding ecstasy’ can become part of the public discourse by providing an honest insight to all involved, from young people to parents, and from experts to the people in power who think they know what’s best in terms of public policy.
How refreshing to read such an honest account of the Dance Party scene of this period. Amazing journey through the eyes of this indestructible teenager.