Friday, 15 January 2016

Book Review: Every Last Word by Tamera Ireland Stone

Every Last Word by Tamera Ireland Stone
Publication Date: June 16th, 2015
Format: eARC from Netgalley
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.

 I have fallen in love with Miss Stone's previous works and I got incredibly excited when I discovered a new book of hers. Because I was still wrapped up with her debut books, the Time Between Us duology, I thought it would be somewhat related to that. Yeah, I'm silly, I know. But, still, another book. Yay!!

This book is centered around a teenager named Samantha who has to deal with a mental illness called OCD since she was ten years old. Because of this, she's been seeing a psychiatrist in order to help manage it in a way that it doesn't hinder how she lives. None of her friends know about this, which is a good thing in Sam's eyes - after all, if they found out about what goes through her head constantly, they might not even want to be seen with her. Things are a bit stressful. 

At least until Caroline shows up - the one friend who has introduced Sam to what is considered the 'Poet's Corner'. This is where some of the students hang out and recite whatever poems they have written. Even though, at first, they didn't care for Samantha due to her constant bullying against most of them - but, thanks to the guitar-playing teenager, they give her a chance. But is it really worth shooting for something that she loves that she's forced to hide from her other friends?

I'll be the first to admit that I don't know much about OCD other than what may be common knowledge (those who have a need to do rituals in order to lessen their anxiety). I don't know how it feels like to deal with it on a daily basis. But, as I live with another form of mental illness, I had imagine that it would be more prevalent in Sam's life than what was portrayed in this book. There are some scenes that you can just tell scream OCD but they happened less than I anticipated.

On the topic of OCD, though- I can't really imagine that none of her friends wouldn't have realized what was going on with her. I don't think something like OCD would be easy to hide - especially at a young age when she was informed of her mental illness. If you're clueless on how to control your mental health, especially since it was recently discovered, it's hard to fall out of those certain routines without time. Even so, I imagine they would leak out in public somehow.

Just to give a little bit of perspective - I've been with anxiety for a long time... most likely since I was in elementary school but I wasn't diagnosed with it until I was in college. I recently went back to my meds back in mid 2014 when I found myself in a management position. Before those meds, you could clearly tell just how nervous I was. I remember getting so nauseated just opening the store - and I wasn't even anticipating anyone coming by until an hour. My managers knew. Probably all the customers knew. I felt like crying constantly. One day, my anxiety overtook me so bad, I threw up. I couldn't even consume water without it coming back out again.

I couldn't hide my anxiety. Even with my meds, anxious thoughts still run through my head, but at least I can manage being employed at a job. Sam may think she's hiding her OCD well, but... I find that hard to believe honestly.

But, still, I like how Sam started coming out of her shell and started to grow up a little bit. I imagine that she still has a long way to go but... she's still only a teenager. I find it encouraging that she let herself find her voice of positivity and explore it through poetry. I doubt that it would be possible to keep an actual group, even as small as it is, hidden from the school... but even just the thought of having something secret and your own in high school... I can relate to that.

The ending was a little bit confusing to me though. I won't say what happened, because I don't want to give spoilers, but it made me wonder if Sam's really only dealing with OCD... or if she's dealing with something on top of that and another mental illness. But, as interesting of a twist the ending was, I just felt like it was kind of thrown out there. If you read between the lines, though, it's possible to notice it... but the hints were so faint to me that I never caught on.

Overall, I really did love this book despite all the nitpicking I've done of it. The story is about a teenager, who's just trying to seem like a normal girl on the outside, with OCD while also trying not to get herself out of the protection of the popular girls clique. After all, I don't think this book is meant to to be an accurate portrayal of the mental illness. It helps bring the issue to light and, sometimes, that all you really need. It's better to have this sort of thing in teen fiction for young adults to discover rather than them being forced to remain ignorant.

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