Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is a mental illness that most people don’t really understand. We use the term “OCD” very loosely, even as a joke, in everyday conversation: “They’re totally OCD,” we say, when someone is really just orderly or, like Sheldon on “Big Bang Theory,” won’t drink from the same glass as someone else. Unfortunately, true OCD can completely take over someone’s life, and, along with the anxiety of knowing you have it, the anxiety of trying to hide it is crushing. Tamara Ireland Stone’s new novel, Every Last Word, tackles OCD from a teen’s point of view. It is real, and at times heartbreaking, to sit with her as she battles the obsessive thoughts that are crippling her.
Sam(antha) is a popular girl, running with a group of girls called the “Eights.” Friends since they were little, the girls are close, and they are popular. Unfortunately, as with a lot of stories about popular girls who are friends, their friendship is fraught with jealousies, falsehoods, and certain expectations. For this reason, Sam feels most like herself during the summer. As a member of a swim club, she finds her confidence in the water. As a new school year approaches, she begins to feel more anxious for the acting that comes along with it.
Sam has a secret that very few people know: She has Purely-Obsessional OCD and sees a psychiatrist every week to try to help manage the thoughts and the condition. Her mind becomes obsessed with an idea or thought, and once it grabs hold, it will not allow her to let go of it. Despite the amount of energy required to hide her condition and appear as a normal girl, as well as the energy to deal with these dark thoughts that take hold, she has insomnia as well. She and her psychiatrist have worked to find a balance of medication and therapy to keep it all in check.
When Sam meets Caroline, though, her life begins to change. Caroline introduces her to the Poet’s Corner, a secret group that meets in the school basement and reads poetry to each other. And through this, Sam meets AJ, a boy who seems to want nothing to do with her for reasons she can’t understand. Opening herself up to these people and to her own voice through poetry finally makes her feel more normal than she ever does with her popular friends. She finds she has a gift and begins to truly understand herself better.
Stone was inspired to write this story based on an actual girl she knew. She put a lot of research into it, and her empathy toward the subject of OCD comes shining through. Every Last Word is a beautiful story of a girl who is struggling to find herself and her own voice (literally and figuratively). This is such a gem in contemporary Young Adult literature; I urge you to pick it up and read it. Every last word.