Every Last Word – Tamara Ireland Stone
I really wished that I had the time to read this during TimeToChange because it would have been so topical and relevant and I really wanted to be able to join the discussion without having to share things that I am still not really comfortable discussing on the internet. This book would have been perfect, not only do we have a character who suffers from a mental health issue, but we have one that is surrounded by people who accept and love her and help her accept and love herself. And honestly, that is amazing.
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.
So many books that I read about someone suffering from a mental health issue has them spiralling out of control, being admitted to hospital and then regaining control. Which is great, that is a narrative that a lot of people can relate to and honestly, the Bell Jar is a novel that completely and utterly articulates exactly what happened to me and how I was feeling a couple of years ago. But even so, there are plenty of people living with a mental health issue that aren’t on the verge of suicide, that don’t hear voices or need to be in a specialised unit and I feel a little bit like these people are under represented in literature, which is why this book is so good. Sam, although being medicated and seeing a psychiatrist, isn’t dangerous to herself or others, she isn’t locked away from the world, she has to live in it and live with her OCD which was not only added to an already very rich and interesting character, but also gave another less explored insight into literature about mental health.
There are a lot of layers to this story, firstly we have Sam, who as we know from the very first page has a quite serious OCD, her thoughts scare her and she is medicated in order to sleep, we know that her OCD controls pretty much every aspect of her life and that she is scared of being seen as being as abnormal as she fears she is. We also know from the first page that Sam is part of a friendship group that makes her feel insecure about herself and her abilities, which is something we can all relate to. This friendship group is a fairly toxic one full of popular girls who have put Sam in situations where she hasn’t been a particularly nice person, something that she regrets, but is also one of those friendship groups where each girl feels the need to compete against each other, stab each other in the back and then just act as though that’s what friends do. Even if you are someone lucky enough to not be able to relate to mental health side of the book, you can certainly see the reality in the school life.
This isn’t just a book about a girl with an OCD, this is also a book about poetry, about growing up and finding yourself. One of the main themes of the book is how although Sam loves her friends, she is also scared of them. She is scared at what they would do to her if she wasn’t there friend, she is scared of being left out by them and she is scared of how they would react if they knew what was in her head. There are loads of instances in the story of her being upset by things her friends have said, I don’t know about you, but I know that feel. There is a huge strand of this story line which is all about Sam realising that people grow up and they grow apart and that the people you were friends with in primary school are not the same people when they reach secondary school. During the course of the story, this realisation hits her, especially when she starts making new friends through the medium of poetry. These new friends are just as complex and outside of the popular social circle of school. In fact, I guess this book, if we want to make comparisons, is a little like Perks crossed with the Dead Poet’s Society. This ragtag group of kids with their own issues going on have secret meetings where they write and read poetry and its kind of beautiful. Every Last Word is littered with these poems composed by various characters and even though I am not all that into poetry, it was something that even I could appreciate and enjoy. Being someone that loves words and loves books about words and stories etc, I am always very nervous when picking something up that involves those things. I don’t have a particularly good record of finding books about writers or fellow word nerds that are well… Enjoyable, but this was, in fact, every last word of Every Last Word was a joy to behold. The story was great, the narration was great, the characters were great, the portrayal of mental health was great. Basically I really liked it, can you tell?
I don’t feel like this rambly review is doing the story justice, but essentially, Sam learns to deal with her problems with a creative outlet and by exploring new friendships and hobbies and the fact that although she struggles with her OCD and it is clearly something that she see’s as a burden, it doesn’t necessarily hold her back which is a pretty important message to drive home to people if you ask me. It also just so happens that Sam’s life is told in a wonderfully positive and creative way.
Every Last Word is being released in June, so don’t forget to add it to your to buy/ to hire/ to track down lists, because seriously, it’s incredible and if there is one book that you should be looking forward to, it is this one. Many thanks to Net Galley for supplying me with a copy.
This is in fact the first book I’ve reviewed this year to get the Nick Fury Seal of Approval – others that would have gone into this category had I been articulate enough to review them after reading were: Falling into Place and Shock of Fall, which funnily enough, had similar themes to this book!