Every Last Word

Last month, I read OCD Love Story, a book about a teen girl struggling with OCD. Late last night, I finished yet another book about a girl with OCD. The two books, however, are very different in my humble opinion.

I struggled to get through OCD Love Story. It took me a month to finish it. My latest read, though, gripped me from the first page. The book was Every Last Word by Tamara Ireland Stone, and I finished the entire beautiful story in one sitting. (It’s been quite some time since I’ve had the luxury of doing that. Thank the Maker that my summer vacation has begun!)

Every Last Word, which will be released next Tuesday, June 16th, introduces readers to Samantha McAllister. On the outside, Samantha seems to have it all. She’s pretty, popular, smart, and athletic. On the inside, though, she’s at the mercy of a constant stream of thoughts, some of which frighten her at times. Sam has Purely-Obsessional OCD, and no one outside of her family and her therapist know about her struggles with this disorder…and Sam needs to keep it that way.

Sam knows that one wrong move will forever damage her standing with her so-called friends, and it’s becoming more and more difficult to keep her true self from the girls she’s been close to since kindergarten. But if she loses them, Sam fears that she’ll really go crazy, and she simply can’t risk it.

Everything changes for Sam when she meets Caroline. Caroline seems to have a confidence that Sam longs for, and the two girls form an instant bond. Caroline leads Sam to a secret part of the school, Poet’s Corner, a refuge for those who have no place else to go. Sam doesn’t realize immediately that this hideaway may be exactly what she needs to finally express all of the thoughts that stay bottled up inside, but with Caroline’s encouragement and a bit of attention from the guitar-playing AJ, Sam begins to find her true voice.

Sam is still struggling with her changing relationships with her oldest friends, but she’s coming to realize that change can be good. Caroline, AJ, and Poet’s Corner have given her a new perspective and made her realize that she’s stronger than her OCD, and the “normal” she’s always craved may finally be within her reach.

But what will happen when Sam realizes that her mind has betrayed her? What she thought was so real may just be a trick of her anxiety, and the realization could jeopardize everything Sam has fought so hard for this year. When the truth is revealed, she could end up losing not only her old friends but also the safety and love she’s found in Poet’s Corner…and AJ’s arms.

Will Sam become a prisoner of her own mind once again? Or will she work through the maelstrom of emotions, thoughts, and worries that have held her back for so long? What will it take for her to become the person she so desperately wants to be?

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It’s been difficult for me to encapsulate this wonderful book into one short blog post. That’s what happens to me when a book grabs me and won’t let go. I grew very attached to Sam in this book, and the big reveal at the end quite simply tore me apart. I was doing a lot of ugly-crying, and it took me a long time to wind down when I finally finished Every Last Word.

Even though not every person who reads Every Last Word will identify with Sam’s OCD, I do think every reader will relate to Sam’s desire to fit in. I think we’ve all had those friends who we remain close to simply because it’s too difficult to move on from them. I know I’ve held onto some toxic friends way too long because it was just easier.

Sam’s journey throughout this book is a familiar one. She works to find her true self–through swimming, therapy, poetry, and friends who are truly there for her–and realizes just how lacking her old relationships have become. Is it difficult for her to separate from the girls she’s held onto since childhood? Yes…but she can’t grow into the person she wants to be while holding onto people who don’t really know her anymore. (I’m still working on that one myself.)

I think Every Last Word, while a somewhat serious book at times, has elements of Mean Girls that many readers will recognize. Sam is working to move beyond the mean girls in her own life, and, even though the road is often rocky, she’s slowly growing more comfortable in her own skin and her own mind, a huge deal for anyone suffering from any kind of mental illness. Finding Poet’s Corner ultimately leads to Sam finding herself. All teens should be so lucky as to find that one group in high school where they can totally be themselves.

The author’s note at the end of this book provides readers with a closer look at Purely-Obsessional OCD and the importance of a close patient-therapist bond in dealing with this disorder. It also leads readers to websites that may be useful in learning more about OCD and other anxiety disorders. That’s something that was sorely lacking in OCD Love Story, so I’m glad to see it included in Every Last Word.

For further information on Every Last Word and Tamara Ireland Stone, you can connect with the author on her website, Twitter, or Goodreads.

Remember that Every Last Word comes out next Tuesday. Pick up a copy of your own! I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

*Note to those who select books for middle grade readers: There is one sex scene in Every Last Word, but it is not gratuitous. Additionally, there is some mature language. That being said, this book may be okay for readers in eighth grade and up. As always, though, read the book yourself first, and use your best judgement when recommending this book to readers.*

OCD Love Story

It’s not often that I struggle to get through a book, but that’s just what happened with my latest read, OCD Love Story by Corey Ann Haydu. It took me a month to finish this one. (I did read other things while working on this book, but still. A month with a book is a little ridiculous for me.)

When I first picked up OCD Love Story, I was expecting a somewhat lighthearted love story. Well, that will teach me to judge a book by the big, pink heart on the cover. I guess I should have paid more attention to the words that repeat around the heart: “I will not stalk that boy.” Yeah, those words give a much clearer indication of what the reader is getting in this particular book. Although there are moments of humor, OCD Love Story is essentially about a girl struggling with OCD and trying to reconcile her compulsions with the relationships in her life.

Bea meets Beck during a blackout at a school dance. Even though she can’t see him, somehow she knows they have a connection. She’s right about that.

The next time Bea encounters Beck, it’s in a group therapy session for teens with OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder). Bea is certain neither she nor Beck really belong here. Sure, Beck has some quirks he needs to work on, and Bea has her own issues to deal with, but they’re the normal ones in the group, right?

As Bea learns more about Beck’s problems and comes to terms with her own, she eventually realizes that they are as far from “normal” as they can be.

Beck has an obsessive need to be clean, he repeats actions eight times, and he spends most of his free time working out. Bea worries about him, but she’s got plenty to deal with on her own.

Bea can’t control her thoughts about a couple she saw at her therapist’s office. She documents what goes on in their sessions (while she listens through the wall), she finds their apartment, she drives miles out of her way (which is its own brand of torture for Bea) just to make sure she knows they’re safe. And if that weren’t enough, Bea is also starting to worry that she’s capable of violence. She obsesses over articles about girls who suddenly snap, and she keeps a wary eye out for sharp objects.

Bea is unraveling, and it won’t be long before her obsessions and compulsions take over every aspect of her life. She is firmly in the grips of OCD, and this disorder could ruin not only her relationship with Beck but also her most valuable friendship and her own view of herself.

Will Bea be able to confront her demons before she loses everything, including the one guy who may actually understand her? Read OCD Love Story by Corey Ann Haydu to find out.

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I don’t want to say that I didn’t like OCD Love Story. I did, but it wasn’t the type of book that I just had to read in one sitting (hence the month I spent with it). Oftentimes, I had to put it down because Bea was making me anxious. I don’t have OCD, but I do deal with anxiety, and, as Bea and Beck got deeper and deeper into their compulsions, I got more and more tense. That is a likely scenario for most who read this book, but it felt amplified in my case.

I do think OCD Love Story is a very real look at people, particularly teens, who live with OCD. Sometimes things are okay, but other times the obsessions and compulsions are so strong that they take over every aspect of a person’s life. And as hard as it is for loved ones to deal with what’s going on, it’s even more difficult for the person suffering.

One thing I would have liked to see in this book is a list of resources or further reading for those interested in learning more about OCD. There are still a lot of misconceptions about this disorder, and education is key to understanding just what those who have OCD deal with every day.

I would recommend this book for libraries that serve older teenagers. I think some of the material may be too mature for younger teens, so I don’t think I would place this book in a middle school library. Just my two cents.

To learn more about OCD Love Story and other books by Corey Ann Haydu, you can connect with the author on Goodreads and Twitter.

Cryer’s Cross

I started reading Lisa McMann’s newest novel, Cryer’s Cross, last night during a severe thunderstorm in my area.  Not my smartest idea…especially when one considers that I am terrified of thunderstorms and this book is a bit spooky.  Let’s just say that I had some interesting dreams when I finally got to sleep last night.  Anyway, despite my fear of storms and my general wussiness, I was absorbed in the story Lisa McMann delivered in Cryer’s Cross.  My environment just served to make the story even more sinister.  (Luckily, I finished the book today when everything is calm and clear.  Hopefully, there will be no bad dreams tonight…which means I’ll probably dream of chainsaw-weilding zombie clowns intent on eating my brains.)

Our story begins with a missing girl, and in Cryer’s Cross, a town of only 212 where nothing ever happens, this is a major deal.  Everyone knows this girl, and the whole town comes together to search for her, but she is never found.  Kendall Fletcher knew the missing girl (just as she knows everyone else in town), and her OCD-addled brain is having trouble adjusting to all of the chaos around her.  She doesn’t know if she can handle much more change.

When another person goes missing, things become even more difficult for Kendall.  This time it’s her best friend who has disappeared, and Kendall’s entire world dissolves without him.  He can’t possibly be gone.  He had so much to offer the world.  How can Kendall possibly still her raging mind when thoughts of what may have happened to her friend constantly assault her?  Kendall sinks into a fog of depression so deep that she doesn’t think she’ll ever get out…

…until she sees the messages scratched on her friend’s old desk at school.  She knows every message on every desk at school, but she’s never seen these before–Please.  Save Me.  Who could possibly be carving these messages?  No one sits at this desk anymore.  And why do the messages look as if they’ve been there for years?  Could her friend be trying to tell her something?  What has happened to him, and can Kendall find out before that same something happens to her?  Read Cryer’s Cross by Lisa McMann to discover how some small-town secrets can be deadly.

It came as no surprise to me that I enjoyed Cryer’s Cross.  I really liked McMann’s Wake trilogy, so I had a feeling I would like her latest work as well.  This book had romance, mystery, small-town secrets, neurotic characters, and liberal doses of creepiness.  This was a very quick read, and it especially picked up near the end when I was anxious to know what Kendall would find out.  The ending came too soon, and, although I would like to know where Kendall goes from here, I kind of hope there are no sequels to this book.  Cryer’s Cross is strong as a stand-alone title, and the ending is so open (and spooky) that it could spawn some interesting discussions on what readers think happens next.

For more information on Lisa McMann and her books, visit http://lisamcmann.com.  I will warn you, though, that the home page of this site scared the crap out of me (given that I just finished reading Cryer’s Cross).  I literally screamed and closed out the site as fast as I could.  You’ve been warned!