By Author / Illustrator

Natasha Devon


Mental Health & Wellbeing

Age range(s)



UCLan Publishing




Paperback / softback




Llewella has straight-A grades, a lead in the school play, a prefect badge, a successful blog and a comfortable life. Despite this, she feels like a brown, chubby square peg at a school full of thin, white girls. She's never had a best friend. Could the new student at sixth form - glamorous, streetwise Aretha - be the one?

Llewella and Aretha get tight, quick. Before long, Llewella is following a diet Aretha has designed for her and has abandoned her own passions to dive headfirst into Aretha's world. She's determined to be the most loyal, greatest friend she can be, even when Aretha says and does things which make her feel the opposite of great. Even when the anxiety disorder she thought was cured starts to re-emerge. Isn't that how friendships work?

See prequel:  Babushka



I really enjoy contemporary fiction where there is a dilemma or issue to resolve. Toxic is the first book that I have read about a toxic friendship, rather than a relationship, and it was a really interesting read. There is a trigger warning from the author at the beginning due to the mental health issues covered. I felt that they were dealt with sensitively and in a healthy way. Various different organisations have been signposted at the back of the book that readers can turn to for helpful support and advice.

Our protagonist, Llewella (Loo for short), is really likeable. She is an A* student who loves drama, campaigning, student voice and blogging for Loo's Reviews. New girl Aretha joins the school from a stage school in London and Llewella seems to be in awe of her, no matter how poor her friendship skills are. Aretha is a musician who seems to know all of the right places to be seen, the right clothes to wear etc. and she takes Llewella under her wing. It would seem that she sees Llewella as a bit of a project. She puts her on a strict diet, persuades her to quit the drama production, muscles in on her blog, giving it a new image and changing it in a new direction.

Llewella has had mental health issues in the past with anxiety and panic attacks but she had been in a better place until recently. Her new friendship with Aretha changes things for the worse but it happens so gradually that Llewella can't put her finger on why things are beginning to fall apart. Of course as a reader you can see it and I found myself hoping that Llewella would step away.

I loved that Llewella had lots of positive adult role models in her life and that the school staff were portrayed in a positive light. Llewella was given lots of advice and grew from the life lessons that she learned along the way. I felt that there were some really important messages for teenagers conveyed in Toxic. The author also touches upon the possible reason why Aretha could be behaving in the way that she does; this is potentially because she is bipolar but she has self-diagnosed this, so we cannot be certain.

Content of note: mention of drug taking, body image & eating disorder (there is no mention of weight, size or calories counted), mental health in the form of anxiety, OCD, descriptions of panic attacks and bipolar.

322 pages / Reviewed by Clair Bossons, school librarian

Suggested Reading Age 14+


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