by Eoin Shortiss

Eoin Shortiss explores the dangers of reliance on recreational drugs through the novel-turned-stage musical, ‘Be More Chill’.

I know nothing about drugs. The biggest high I’ve gotten from a drug (besides alcohol) happened that one time I misread the recommended dose on a box of paracetamol. But even I can see that there’s a lot of reasons why people would take recreational drugs. Some do it to unwind, some to help fit in with peers, or in other cases, some do it to try and escape personal problems. There’s a unique story, and motivation, behind every drug-user. And Be More Chill, the book (now turned musical) written by Ned Vizzini, does a great job of spelling that out for the reader.

Be More Chill’s narrative is an allegory for what can happen to someone who grows reliant on a recreational drug. Our story begins in a classroom, documented from the perspective of 16 year-old Jeremy Heere, who is very unhappy with his life. On top of only having one real friend, Jeremy feels looked down upon by all of his peers, to the extent that he even carries home-made “humiliation sheets” with him to keep track of the amount of times he’s mocked in one day. Jeremy is desperate for a chance to climb the social ladder and be popular, and for him, that opportunity arises in a pill called the “Squip.”

When the Squip is first mentioned, the book specifically prefaces that “it’s not drugs.” And in terms of the narrative, that is correct. The Squip is a quantum supercomputer that, once taken, implants itself in the user’s brain and gives them instructions on what to do in order to make their dreams a reality. But it’s a blatant allusion to drugs. If the fact that it comes in a pill isn’t tell-tale enough, Squips are also illegal, and when Jeremy finally has a chance to get one, he has to buy it from a sketchy-looking guy at the back of a shoe-shop. If that doesn’t sound like a drug deal to you, I don’t know what does. It’s through Jeremy’s experience with the Squip that the book’s commentary on the effects of an over-reliance on recreational drugs emerges.

Similar to the high people experience from recreational drugs, the Squip starts out great. When Jeremy starts taking its advice, he suddenly becomes desirable and charming, and his social status skyrockets. Also similar to a drug trip, the Squip gives Jeremy a temporary escape from his personal problems. With the Squip’s advice Jeremy’s self-confidence rises, and his self-loathing, that was predominant at the start of the book, starts to fizzle out. Be More Chill is a commentary on problematic drug-usage that takes the positives (from the perspective of the user) into account. For the vast majority of the book, nobody can honestly say that the Squip seems “harmful” for Jeremy. Hell, even I wanted one for a little while. But just as the book documents the drug-user’s experience when high, it also documents what happens when they come down.

Without spoilers, towards the narrative’s conclusion, the Squip inadvertently sets Jeremy up for a fall, destroying the reputation it had helped him build over the course of the book. Furthermore, just when things start to go wrong for Jeremy, the Squip suddenly goes quiet, leaving him to deal with all of his problems on his own. The high wears off and Jeremy hits rock-bottom, finding himself with all the problems and insecurities that he carried from the start of the book. All of his popular friends are gone, and the reader sees him vulnerable, and alone.

The book’s message here is pretty simple; recreational drugs can be fun, but they’ll never actually solve anything. The Squip started off great for Jeremy, but ultimately it only served as a temporary distraction from his real life. Be More Chill is humorous and enjoyable, but at its core is a valuable life-lesson that we could all learn from.

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