Book Review: “Placebo Junkies” by J.C. Carlson

placebo junkies

“Placebo Junkies” by J.C. Carleson (2015)

Genre: YA, Fiction, Contemporary

Page Length: 298 pages (hardcover edition)


Meet Audie: Professional lab rat. Guinea pig. Serial human test subject. For Audie and her friends, “volunteering” for pharmaceutical drug trials means a quick fix and easy cash.
Sure, there’s the occasional nasty side effect, but Audie’s got things under control. If Monday’s pill causes a rash, Tuesday’s ointment usually clears it right up. Wednesday’s injection soothes the sting from Tuesday’s “cure,” and Thursday’s procedure makes her forget all about Wednesday’s headache. By the time Friday rolls around, there’s plenty of cash in hand and perhaps even a slot in a government-funded psilocybin study, because WEEKEND!

But the best fix of all is her boyfriend, Dylan, whose terminal illness just makes them even more compatible. He’s turning eighteen soon, so Audie is saving up to make it an unforgettable birthday. That means more drug trials than ever before, but Dylan is worth it.
No pain, no gain, Audie tells herself as the pills wear away at her body and mind. No pain, no gain, she repeats as her grip on reality starts to slide….(description from Goodreads)


Audie, the main protagonist, is a girl that comes from difficult times. She relies on pharmaceutical trials in order to make a living to keep herself off of the streets.  She decides to go on a challenge, with a friend named Charlotte, for a period of nonstop trials where the two will fake results and end up with the ultimate amount of cash. Charlotte wants to get rich, while Audie wants to give her terminally ill boyfriend the trip of a lifetime.

Audie deals with a lot in her life. She loves Dylan, but hates to see him suffering which fuels her to go on this treacherous challenge. She knows this might be his only chance to travel and see one of the most beautiful places in the world and she can’t bear to let him down. While Audie sees that everyone that surrounds her is suffering she is in denial about her own depression. Her own mother died from addiction as a child and from then on she was basically on her own. While Audie claims she’s not one of those junkies or addicts she’s so desperate to separate herself from, we see her transform as her depression spirals out of control even further after certain events transpire.

The novel focuses on drugs, addiction, mental illness, and teen homelessness, among other issues. While some people think billboards that advertise these drug trails are a joke, its such a huge business. The novel highlights the fact that while pharmaceutical trials are rewarding by making advances in medical science, they’re still very dangerous. The trials lure people with money, but what are the consequences of being used as a guinea pig? In the book we see the many damaging side-effects of these unknown drugs that not only causes serious destruction of the human body and also results in death.

This is such a heartbreaking and realistic novel. While reading this novel, I could tell that Carleson did her research as the characters used and situations that take place seem so realistic. I’ve read novels about addiction and mental illness before, but never any about the issue of pharmaceutical trials. I knew some information and read some articles about drug trials prior to reading this book, but I came away from the story with even more knowledge and a different perspective on this issue. I appreciate Carleson writing about and highlighting this important topic in her novel.

Final Verdict:

4 star rating

2 thoughts on “Book Review: “Placebo Junkies” by J.C. Carlson

  1. Dude, I just googled JC Carleson and she is apparently a former undercover CIA agent. (This is so crazy to me that after typing that sentence, I googled her twice more to make sure I had not misunderstood something.) I mean, shit, good for her! Like if my first career were literally spy, I’m not sure my next venture would be the wild and wacky world of publishing, but GOOD FOR HER. (Adding to the list. It sounds good but even aside from that like I don’t think I’ve ever read a novel by an actual spy before.)

    1. Oh wow! I didn’t know that at all! Like you said, to go from the CIA to publishing is an amazing feat. She also wrote this book called “The Tyrant’s Daughter” which has been on my TBR pile for a while. It looks really good.

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