30,000 Steps is a hilariously heartfelt page-turner about opioid deaths

Back in 2015, writer Jess Keefe had convinced her younger brother Matt to move in with her. They were both going through breakups, and for about six months, they kept each other afloat in their Boston apartment as they navigated their way into early adulthood. Things were looking up — until Jess came home one day to discover that her brother had overdosed on heroin.

Thirty-Thousand Steps: A Memoir of Sprinting Toward Life After Loss is their story. And it is somehow hilarious, charming, delightful, and inspiring despite the fact that, well, it's mostly about addiction and death. But that's a testament to the power of Keefe's scintillating prose. She innately understands one of the simplest truths about storytelling: that specificity can make things more universal. Through snappy scenes and dialogue, she zooms in on the most remarkable details of her life before, during, and after Matt's heroin overdose, lushly illustrating her own unique story and situation with words. But in doing so, she elevates the story from a simple tragedy of healing-through-art, and turns it into a manifesto to help the world understand the true depths of the addiction crisis, and how our society's twisted need to punish people harms those who are dealing with grief and addiction.

I've known Jess Keefe for nearly two decades. For years, we lived around the corner from one another — with literally just a church and a brewery between us. Through her, I was friendly with Matt through her as well, even before he moved in to that same apartment. Despite that familiarity, I found this book remarkably surprising and exciting to read — even though I was present in the background of some of these recollections. That's a testament to the power of Keefe's writing. Her dark humor is invigorating, and her subtle observations are so clever and insightful that I found my own memories refreshed in ways I'd never imagined. Some of that is certainly just from hearing so intimately from someone else's perspective. But even though I knew what was going to happen — or at least the general arc of it — I still devoured the book like a page-turning thriller. Because that's sort of what it is.

Case in point: Much of the arc of the book follows Keefe's self-discovery in the aftermath of her brother's death — from the awkwardness of small talk about funerals on first dates, to devouring all the available literature in hopes of understanding how and why her brother became addicted when others don't. I knew that Keefe had since committed her life to addiction advocacy, but I could never have truly known the intense personal journey she went through to get there. And here, she shares it, in all its raw, ugly, and embarrassingly hilarious glory. Addiction doesn't happen, it unfolds, and Keefe illustrates that truism with bracing empathy.

But hey, if you don't want to take my clearly biased word for it, then trust Good Morning America, which describes a book full of opioids and drag queens and punk bands as a "must-read" and a "a searing, emotional and powerful look at the love between siblings and the disastrous effect drugs can have on a family." That's pretty cool acclaim to see for a friend's book, and I can assure you: it's well deserved. 30,000 Steps is a crucial story about grief, addiction, and family that will resonate with just about everyone I can imagine.

Thirty-Thousand Steps: A Memoir of Sprinting Toward Life After Loss [Jess Keefe]