"I Must Read, Read, and Read. It is my Vocation." - Thomas Merton
This is where I chronicle my reading life. I also blog about writing at Lacey's Late-night Editing.
Around the Year Reading Challenge Item #34: A book about mental illness
This is one of the better YA books I've read this year. Samantha's voice feels believable and does not reduce her to her mental illness, which is OCD with a focus on obsessive thoughts. Although Sam keeps her OCD secret from her friends and crush, and this provides some of the tension, it's reassuring to know that her family and her therapist are in on her struggles and are there to support her, so the OCD never feels overwhelming and Samantha's predicaments never veer toward despair.
The story thread about Samantha dealing with her group of friends, "mean girls" who often prey on her insecurities and make the idea of coming out about her OCD unthinkable, is well handled. Although we don't get to know all the girls in the group in depth, and some of them are basically just names, Stone does a good job of showing that they are more than their place in the hierarchy, and she intersperses happy memories and a long history together that makes it easy to see why Sam can't easily just break away from them. From her association with them, she has access to a privileged place on the school's social strata, and this serves as "golden handcuffs" that traps her.
Woven alongside this story is one about Samantha discovering a new group of friends, poets who secretly meet to share their work twice a week. This is how she finds the strength to begin leaving her toxic friendships behind, and she also finds a way to give voice to what it feels like to live with OCD. She has a crush on one of the boys in the group, and for me this book's main drawback was the amount of time it spent on teen lovey-dovey stuff, although at least the object of Sam's affection feels like an individual and is not "perfect" (he's a stutterer, has his own insecurities, can't swim, etc.) I sort of secretly wanted this to be a lesbian story since Samantha and Caroline had such great chemistry, but I liked the ultimate explanation for why they "clicked," too. I also really loved the book's themes about the healing power of writing, the idea that those who have mental illness derive certain blessings from their condition and the sensitive way it handled Samantha's reliance on escapism.
A good read, overall, and one that delivers more than it promises.