In November 2013, Rose Andersen's 24-year-old sister Sarah died of an overdose in the bathroom of her boyfriend's home. In this memoir, Rose revisits their volatile childhood, the opioid crisis that plagued their small town, and a suspicious coroner's report that suggests Sarah's death might have involved foul play.
... will be heart-rending for anyone to read, though I can’t imagine anyone’s heart will be rent in quite the same way addicts’ will ... Andersen’s prose rings not just with the fierce love of a grieving sister but the unblinking compassion of a fellow addict. The Heart and Other Monsters is a tender chronicle of the things that stood in Sarah’s way ... Andersen has written the story of another’s life in which she is a supporting character: It’s a feat not only of imagination but of love and empathy. A life cut as short as Sarah’s could have taken all manner of exhilarating twists and turns, and in Andersen’s deeply felt, complex account, Sarah’s life is allowed to occupy the dimensions it could have had it not been overtaken by addiction ... a relatively slim volume at 212 pages.One cannot help but wonder what Andersen could have accomplished had she allowed herself more space. Although the recovery community urges against taking inventories, a memoir does take inventory of a life’s events, and Andersen moves at a clip that sometimes feels obstructive to her own purposes. I was left wondering whether her cancer and sojourns in Italy tied into her own coke-and-alcohol tailspin. I was curious to spend more time with Rose and Sarah as children, to see them playing (as Sarah does in a beautiful interlude about believing in fairies) and becoming, to see what existed of who they wanted to be before they had to duck and cover from their nasty father and stepfather. I would have happily read more of Andersen’s deft inhabitation of Sarah’s point of view. The book certainly works at 212 pages, but the inquisitive reader in me — and perhaps the addict as well — wanted more, more, more ... a primer not only for addiction but for grief and love ... The book bears the massive responsibility of preserving Sarah’s legacy, but it also asks the reader to bear some responsibility for understanding Sarah’s complex humanity. Any addict can imagine herself in Sarah’s place: Now it’s the nonaddict’s turn. This kind of imaginative empathy seems particularly crucial as people continue to die of opioid overdoses all over the country. So read The Heart and Other Monsters and start seeing addicts as human. It’s all on you now.
Rose’s beautifully painful retracing of these events, of her sister’s life and death, in an attempt to untangle this web and reconcile the loss of a loved one ... Unlike anything I’ve ever read, Andersen’s memoir takes a unique approach to the genre with a mixture of memories and heartbreak infused with speculation and echoes of true crime ... This memoir tackles so much, all weighty topics, from personal loss to the nationwide issues of addiction ... Andersen, much like her writing, has an intense strength about her. The words she has laid down on the page are raw and piercing, gritty and so real. A tremendous amount of love is also expressed in this book alongside guilt, frustration, and surprise as to how things came to this point. With short, propulsive chapters, The Heart and Other Monsters is a book readers will be unable to look away from, even in its most painful moments.
Andersen has done her research on opioids ... what Andersen cannot resurrect, she honors with raw honesty and tremendous care in the telling of this story ... The audience for this book is sizable; many of us have lost a loved one to the opioid crisis, or know someone caught in the grip of addiction. I picked up The Heart and Other Monsters because of the resonance of its subject matter in my own life—I lost a cousin to an accidental fentanyl overdose in 2018, and an aunt to an accidental OxyContin overdose in 2019. What I didn’t know in choosing THAOM was how it would move me to act ... harrowing, beautiful.