The opioid crisis in America used to dominate the news. Everywhere, it seemed, families were destroyed when someone, usually through no fault of their own, became addicted to painkillers. And I have to believe that the children suffered the most.
In Never Less, author Geoffrey Wells uses this crisis as a backdrop for a thrilling story of two friends, Mindy and Pablo, who stumble on an illegal drug operation and decide to do something about it. Both have fathers who are in trouble. Mindy’s dad is a doctor addicted to painkillers. And Pablo’s father is an illegal alien. Then there are the criminals—a nasty bunch.
What I liked best about this story is how much these kids value their friendship. Though they are from different backgrounds, they are, in every sense of the word, simpatico. In an ideal world, young people shouldn’t have to deal with adult problems. But we know better. Sometimes, they have no choice. And in Never Less, they do not shy away from their responsibility.
The day two twelve-year-olds stumble across a secret tunnel being used to smuggle opioids is the day they start to save their dads. Pablo is a Dreamer kid whose father is always one step away from deportation. Though their octogenarian mentor warns them about the infamous Prohibition tunnel that leads to the mill, they go back with Pablo’s dad, but cannot leave after witnessing a drug gang murder. Pablo bravely escapes and decides to go missing to figure out how the drugs are being smuggled. But self-assured Mindy surprises Pablo by insisting he help her distract her dad, a doctor, from taking any pills.
He realizes she too has a father to save.
Their friendship grows as the pair sleuth with cryptic clues in their gaming code that outwit the grown-ups. The pair uncover a callous scheme to lace pills with a fatal dose of fentanyl and must act to save their school friends—and that will happen because Pablo and Mindy are on the job!
Never Less is a thriller for middle grade readers that will help them come to grips with the opioid crisis in a fun, adventurous, and relatable way that will give them agency over even the toughest grown-up problems.