Publisher: Disney Hyperion
Release Date: June 16th, 2015
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 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.
After reading several highly positive early reviews for Tamara Ireland Stone's upcoming release Every Last Word, I knew I would have to give it a go. The number of YA contemporary titles with some sort of mental health issue in the center of the events is continually increasing and I have probably read over 10 books with a mental health subject matter this year alone. With such books increasing in popularity, it is becoming increasingly difficult to find the true the gems from a bunch of just "okay" books. Every Last Word certainly is a gem, a shining diamond, a beautiful piece of literature that will make your heart both burst from happiness and ache from sadness.
Every Last Word follows Samantha McAllister. She's one of the popular girls and belongs to a group of friends that would probably play the role of the "mean girls" in a generic teen film. They are beautiful, well-off (at least it seems like that) and seen - everyone knows who they are and what they represent. But under the surface, Samantha is boiling. She has a secret that would probably ruin her status as the beautiful, popular girl and turn her into someone the group either pities or completely ignores. So from the age of 11, Sam has kept her OCD diagnosis a secret, only showing her supposed best friends her fun, carefree side while keeping her dark, obsessive thoughts and feelings to herself.
After a wonderful summer of being "Summer Sam", someone who does not constantly get judged on her clothes, actions etc by her friends, Sam realizes that she has to follow the orders of her psychiatrist Sue and make a change in her life. When Sam meets Caroline, a girl who moves around the school without a shield of protection created by make-up, perfect clothes and a hip group of friends, Sam feels like she has found someone she can connect with, someone she can actually tell about her OCD related symptoms. But at the same time, she is afraid to leave the protection of her friends behind. Thus, Caroline becomes a secret, something only for Sam.
When Caroline introduces Sam to the Poet's Corner, a secret room hidden within the school theatre, words start to flow from Sam to her collection of notebooks. She writes about the way she feels when she is swimming, the way she feels when she cannot control her mind as well as the way she feels when she is with her new friends and with AJ, a boy from her past that she very much would like to see as her future.
I loved the distinction between the popular Sam and the Sam of the Poets Corner. While popular Sam tends to go with the flow and to agree with her friends on what to do and what to say, Poets Corner Sam is more honest and true to what she really feels. As the novel progresses, it is interesting to see how Sam learns who the "real her" really is. While she feels like she needs to hide her true self from her best friends, at Poets Corner she can be more open and honest, both to the people around and to herself. The way Caroline opens her up and shows her what friendships can really be like, Sam starts to question her connection to the Crazy Eights (a nickname for the group of friends).
It was such a pleasure to read about Sam and really get to know her. I pretty quickly realized that the way Tamara Ireland Stone writes about OCD and the obsessive feelings Sam has is something that I can relate with. Though I am in no way as deep with the symptoms as Sam is, I do have my own fair share of experiences from anxiety, panic attacks and obsessive thoughts. I really loved and appreciated the fact that Stone has decided to go with a character with Purely-Obsessional OCD which often shows more inside the mind of the person rather than outside. This means that rather than continually finding a need to for example place things in certain order, Sam feels like she cannot control her brain from the inside. For example, when she hears about a girl AJ used to date, she gets obsessed with finding out more about her - she searches the Internet, looks for photos etc. She wants to stop, but she can't. There are also those more "obvious" symptoms of OCD she deals with, like her obsession with the number three - she needs to scratch herself three times, she needs to swim on lane three, etc.
Though this book is mostly about Sam and the discoveries she makes about her life, there's a little bit of romance thrown in there as well, which I absolutely loved. AJ is such a great character and the way he treats Sam made my heart beat with adoration and love. For Sam, who has usually been obsessed with boys rather than actually purely liking them, the feelings that she has for AJ make her feel "normal" and for the first time in a long time she feels like she is just not a girl who has to hide her true-self in order to be liked. The way these two characters connect with so well written and OH THE CHEMISTRY. IT IS DEFINITELY THERE.
What I was really glad to notice is that rather than keeping this group of friends Sam has grown up with as a stereotypical, superficial group of mean girls, Stone attempted to give them more depth and to show that they might not be quite as what they first seem. Yes, their characterization could have been done a bit better or more extensively, but since this novel is essentially about Sam and her new friends, I was okay with Stone gives. I also loved the fact that though this group has not always been good for Sam, she does not want to completely cut the cord - yes, these girls might not understand what Sam is going through, but at the same time, these girls are the ones Sam has happy memories of, memories that she would not want to give up.
One relationship, probably even more important that the one between Sam and AJ, is the one between Sam and her psychiatrist Sue. I loved the way this relationship is described - it is positive, trusting and honest. Rather than following a character who thinks she does not need help, we have a character who is aware of her mental state and the fact that without Sue, she would probably be quite lost with herself and her feelings. With all the stigma and prejudices that still, unfortunately, surround mental health issues and therapy etc, I find it extremely important that Stone takes such a positive, realistic stand on this.
I absolutely loved Every Last Word. It is well written, full of interesting, multi-dimensional characters. Along with cute romance, it tackles mental health issues with honesty and shows that a lot of research has gone into writing this novel. Every Last Word surprised me positively and its beautiful language and character certainly made me seek out Stone's previous work.