EVERY LAST WORD by Tamara Ireland Stone
If you could read my mind, you wouldn’t be smiling. Samantha McAllister looks just like the rest of the popular girls in her junior class. But hidden beneath the straightened hair and expertly applied makeup is a secret that her friends would never understand: Sam has Purely-Obsessional OCD and is consumed by a stream of dark thoughts and worries that she can’t turn off. Second-guessing every move, thought, and word makes daily life a struggle, and it doesn’t help that her lifelong friends will turn toxic at the first sign of a wrong outfit, wrong lunch, or wrong crush. Yet Sam knows she’d be truly crazy to leave the protection of the most popular girls in school. So when Sam meets Caroline, she has to keep her new friend with a refreshing sense of humor and no style a secret, right up there with Sam’s weekly visits to her psychiatrist. Caroline introduces Sam to the Poet’s Corner, a hidden room and a tight-knit group of misfits who have been ignored by the school at large. Sam is drawn to them immediately, especially a guitar-playing guy with a talent for verse, and starts to discover a whole new side of herself. Slowly, she begins to feel more “normal” than she ever has as part of the popular crowd . . . until she finds a new reason to question her sanity and all she holds dear.
Wow. Another great book. From the first chapter I was hooked, not only by the tension and characters, but also by the immersive writing.
The representation of OCD was accurate, in a way that let the reader experience and understand how it feels. It also, thankfully, strayed away from the stereotypical hand-washing/cleaning OCD (because there are many, many types) but wasn’t only about Getting Better and Overcoming it. Indeed, while this is important, the emphasis on the main character empowering herself and feeling competent and confident (which, ultimately, is what OCD therapy is about) not only feels more realistic and helpful, but also relatable for those with and without the disorder.
By this, I especially mean that OCD was not the defining quality or hobby of the protagonist, unlike some “mental health” ya books. This is important not only because it is more realistic, but also because it puts mental health in a better perspective– it doesn’t define someone, even if it is something they have to deal with and overcome. (Quick side-note on mental health terminology- someone isn’t OCD or schizophrenic or anxious, they HAVE OCD or schizophrenia or anxiety. It doesn’t define them, or become a part of them, no less than having cancer makes one cancerous).
Also, some comments on other reviews have mentioned that OCD wasn’t represented well. Indeed, everyone’s experience of any mental illness is different but if this isn’t a good representation, then I don’t know what is. Complex characters. Therapy and medicine-positivity, both of which were accurate. Raw emotions without being over-the-top. The use of techniques like breathing and exposure (like the mother with the scissors at the beginning). For example, just because one war story or love story doesn’t match your own doesn’t mean it isn’t an accurate representation, just as a mental illness story can be accurate without representing everyone’s experience.
Some people have also mentioned that it was part of the “love-solves-all” trope but it isn’t. Love-solves-all involves the love to come FIRST, not after. And PEOPLE WITH MENTAL ILLNESSES ARE ALLOWED TO HAVE LOVE/HAPPY ENDINGS without it invalidating their story. Indeed, love should not solve all. But it doesn’t in this case– some of it comes from her empowering herself, some from creating a healthier environment (changing friends, finding passions, gaining confidence) and some from classic therapy techniques like exposure or mindfulness. This is how love and mental illness should be portrayed.
This book also tackled a lot of issues that are either glossed over or skipped in other books, like dealing with toxic friends, the normality of feeling anxious/horrible/etc when friends are exclusive or mean, poetry and writing as a way to find community, bullying and reconciliation (not just from the bullied person’s perspective), owning up to mistakes, and much more.
In this way, the ending was fitting (and slightly unexpected) but in the best way. It wasn’t cliche or obvious, but it made sense. It wasn’t romanticizing things it shouldn’t, nor either happy or sad just because.
The writing itself was lyrical. The kind where you forget you are reading, but when you step back each line is strong and powerful and so well done. No wonder this book has gotten so much acclaim. If you are looking for an accurate representation of ‘pure-o” OCD (focused on thoughts for both obsessions and compulsions, rather than physical compulsions like handwashing), that portrays mental illness and relationships in the way it should be portrayed, then check out this book.
If you liked this post, subscribe to my blog on the menu on the right to get notifications of future reviews and posts. Share it on social media and check out the book 🙂