If you Google The Secret of Willow Ridge, you will find it available as a free PDF file. The reason for this is because it’s not a children’s mystery book, as the title implies, but a book for children of addicts. The teacher in me was intrigued and I was curious to read it.
Addiction is an isolating disease, both for the spouse and children of the addict. That isolation is the “secret” of Willow Ridge.
Gabe is our eyes and ears in the story. His dad, Jack, is the addict. Jack’s addiction is all Gabe has known in his short life. For him, the word “addict” doesn’t exist until it is explained. In the meantime, his dad’s mood swings, inability to keep a job, and talent for putting new dents in the family car are only a source of embarrassment.
Like any child, Gabe wants two things: a family that functions like the other families he observes and acceptance from his peers. His dad’s addiction has prevented this for years. While Gabe might seem a bit critical in his judgements about his parents, especially his dad, it’s clearly a defense mechanism. This is a child in pain.
Fortunately, the trip to the recovery center happens very early in the story.
The great thing The Secret of Willow Ridge does for young readers who suffer in families such as Gabe’s is it gives them hope–hope that things can change for the better. It also helps to explain addiction in a way a child understands and remove the stigma attached.
This is probably not a book I would put on my classroom shelf, but it is a book I would recommend. If I had a student like Gabe, it could be helpful. Addiction and recovery are covered well, but not glossed over as something easily overcome. As victims of addiction get younger and younger, a book like The Secret of Willow Ridge is necessary.