Monday, June 29, 2015

Review: Every Last Word by Tamara Ireland Stone

Every Last Word by Tamara Ireland Stone
Release Date: June 16, 2015
Publisher: Disney Hyperion
Genre: Young Adult Contemporary

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.  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.

From the moment I met character, Samantha McAllister, I felt deeply for her.  I can't imagine what it must be like to have such dark thoughts and be unable to control them.  Every time I've ever heard OCD mentioned, I always think of the compulsive nature of this illness, that part that causes people to do things for no reason helplessly, to count things, to wash their hands too much, to have strange rituals, etc... and yes, Samantha has that too, but I've never actually been exposed to the other side of the illness... to the purely obsessional part, and what that could mean.

The author did a phenomenal job with characterization for Sam, and with portraying her illness so believeably and heartbreakingly.  I felt for this character from the very first page, and felt so badly for her daily struggle to suppress and hide this strong part of herself so that she will be normal and accepted.  But the thing is, I think someone with an illness like hers would try to hide it, no matter the age.  This isn't just high school peer pressure here... anyone would want to hide it. So I emphathized with her.

Her friends were a little cliched in the perfect-high-school-snobs kind of way, but I get the feeling this was somewhat deliberate, as a way to show the necessity for Sam's struggle for containing her secret, and to better illustrate the contrast between these friends, and the new ones she meets at Poet's Corner.  Because Poet's Corner is what begins to change her, make her feel normal.  This was such a strong theme in the book to me about choosing your friends wisely... about how one person or group of people can so influence your persona.  With the one group she's at her worst, but with the other she begins to feel normal.

There was a love interest in this story, but the romance to me was largely secondary to the main struggle and what was going on with Sam.  However, I did love the romance, and the fact that it was slow-building and meaningful.

The story was very well-written, beautifully so at times, and very emotionally impactful to me.  I lov Stone's work because she is able to pack a punch with few words.  Great characterization, great story, and an all around great read.

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