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 took a few days off after finishing this book to write my review. I wanted to let it settle in and see how I was feeling, and you know what? I still love it just as much as I did the moment I finished. I discovered author, Tamara Ireland Stone, through her time-travelling young adult stories, Time Between Us and Time After Time, so I wasn’t sure if I would love a straight-up contemporary as much. It’s different, but as good, in a very different way.
The book is heavy on themes. Themes of fitting in, finding one’s place, uncertainty, being different, being accepted, finding your voice, finding your words. It’s also a story about a girl and a boy. And secrets. And trust.
Samantha McAllister is part of the Crazy Eights, the most popular girls in her junior class, but she’s hiding a secret from them — she has OCD with an emphasis on obsessive rather than compulsive, making it easier to keep her issues private. In fact, no one in school knows about it. Until she meets Caroline, a nerdy girl who promises Samantha she can change her life. Samantha is a girl with two halves, her public persona as part of the Eights, and the private Summer Sam, who doesn’t try so hard to conceal who she is. Samantha wants to be Sam all the time, and not just during the summer when she’s away from the Eights. Her friendship with Caroline sparks a journey that burns through the pages, as Samantha allows Sam out of her box for longer bits of a time.
The plot addresses so many things, but at it’s core, it’s about a girl battling OCD and her journey in finding herself. Strong subplots include a romance with the sweet, soulful AJ, her friendships with the Caroline and the other Poets, as well as her evolving relationship with the Eights. Each plot is well done, and woven seamlessly with the others. There were a few good plot twists, and one, shocking, jaw-dropping twist that I wasn’t sure about at first, but ended up loving for its brilliance.
The author has done her homework and portrays the world of mental health in a raw and realistic manner. Her creation of Poet’s Corner is detailed and vivid. I could picture the room and the kids and the tiny stage, feel the atmosphere, smell the combination of old paper and stale coffee, with a hint of teen body odor. And considering I was born without a sense of smell, that’s saying something!
Samantha is complex, troubled, and so utterly relatable, it’s impossible not to love her despite her flaws. Sam spends such an inordinate amount of time in her own head, the only other character I truly felt like I got a good sense of was Shrink Sue. It’s not that the other characters are one-dimensional, but that we see the world through Sam’s eyes and she’s just very introspective.
The pacing is good, never really dragging, the plot twists were adequately foreshadowed, and the author has an interesting voice that is both deep and youthful, fitting this story really well.
I enjoyed the ending. I thought the main plot points were wrapped up well, but in a believable way, because OCD isn’t something cured. It’s something people are taught to manage, and I think that was authentically portrayed.
Top Five Things I Loved About Every Last Word
1. The Poetry. The poems were deep and meaningful and I love how the author managed to give each poet his or her own voice in their creations.
2. Sam. She’s just so incredibly well developed, and while I have never suffered like she has, I could understand her thought spirals, and relate to how she felt out of control. I think everyone has something about themselves that feels a little beyond their ability to control at times.
3. AJ. He is sweet, thoughtful, and yet not perfect, which made him perfectly believable.
4. Shrink Sue. The way she helps Sam, maintains boundaries, and yet clearly loves her patient is heartwarming.
5. Caroline. She was exactly the friend Sam needed at the time Sam needed her.
I’m glad I gave this book a try. It surprised me in the very best of ways.
I was provided with a copy of this book by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.