There have been a lot of books written lately dealing with teen mental illness, some successfully, some not so much. They are tough to read, and tough to review. This one in particular was difficult – although I really loved it, it left me with questions.
Samantha McAllister is a junior in high school, and has been diagnosed with Purely-Obsessional OCD; she can’t turn off her brain without the help of meds and dark thoughts can overwhelm her. Her crushes on various boys are not always based in reality. Sleep can be nearly impossible and the number three has far too much influence on her daily activities.
She has been best friends since junior kindergarten with the same group of girls – the Crazy Eights (now down to five). They are the popular girls, they set the trends for make-up and clothes, are on every social committee, are the ones everyone else wants to be. Or so Samantha thinks.
In reality, she is no longer comfortable around the group, and she feels like the fifth wheel. The petty jealousies, the social structure and watching every word she says and every outfit she chooses is tiring. She is ready to move on, but is afraid to leave the safety of familiarity, afraid to make such a change.
Then she meets Caroline, who helps her find her own voice. Sam is introduced to Poet’s Corner, and accepted into a group of individuals who all have their own ideas and quirks, who all are ready to like her for her. She competes at an elite level in swimming, and finds strength in the pool and in her writing. Slowly, she starts to feel “normal,” and occasionally leaves behind some of her regular behaviours.
I did NOT see the twist coming at the end.
Tamara Ireland Stone writes fabulous characters. Sam, AJ and Caroline were so alive, and the various friends and frenemies were absolutely believable. Stone evokes emotion without effort throughout; the story made me angry, made me hold my breath, cringe, laugh and cry.
Here is my issue with the story: I cannot judge how successful it is in portraying OCD accurately. To me, Sam’s challenges seemed a bit romanticized, if I can use that word. Is it really likely that a teenage girl was able to hide her OCD from the friends she had hung out with almost daily since kindergarten? When she was diagnosed so young?
That said, it feels like an honest attempt, and I think was done respectfully. Any effort to shine a light on and bring understanding to teen mental illness should be applauded.
Given the subject matter, the novel is appropriate for age 12 and up.
Every Last Word is published by Hyperion.