by Tamara Ireland Stone
To be published by Disney-Hyperion
on June 16, 2015
Source: eARC from publisher plus ARC and swag from Big Honcho Media
Synopsis from Goodreads: 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.My take: There were things I really liked about Every Last Word, and other things that gave me pause. I'll start with the positive:
I do know a fair amount about OCD, and it was clear the author did her research (there's also an afterword in which she explains some of her choices.) The opening of the book, in which a young Sam is trying to cope with a mind that is "stuck" on one obsessive thought, was powerful and realistic. Symptoms of OCD typically do appear by young adulthood. Every Last Word focused on Purely Obsessional OCD. In popular culture, OCD is usually equated with things like repeated hand-washing (or being excessively neat) but OCD entails both obsessive thoughts and the compulsive behaviors that serve as coping mechanisms.
I also liked the fact that Sam was in therapy and on medication. Often YA books that deal with mental health issues show characters who are not in treatment or resisting treatment and I'm happy that this book showed that Sam's condition was pretty well-managed with a combination of talk therapy and medication. I thought it was great that Sam's therapy sessions were incorporated into the book. Her talks with Sue were some of my favorite parts.
Those positive things were great, but I also thought there was a lot going on in this book. The book's main conflict is that Sam isn't able to be honest with her friends about her condition. And the main reason for that is because her school friends are a judge-y group of mean girls. I did like the fact that Sam's therapist told her she ought to consider finding nicer friends, but at times I felt that the story became too much about mean girl drama. There's also subplot about a prior bullying incident that Sam was involved in.
Sam actually does have other friends -- from her swim team. I liked the way the story showed that swimming was a release for Sam -- something that helped her get out of her head. I thought it was interesting (and plausible) that while Sam has a numbers obsession with her car odometer, she seems to have no such obsession with the number of laps she swims or her swim times. Sam's therapist thinks swimming is good for her, and Sam's trying to swim six days a week.
Then the story adds yet one more element -- poetry. Sam meets a new friend, Caroline, who invites her to a secret place called Poet's Corner. While this is a common trope in contemporary YA -- girl with some life issues finds a new group of quirky friends and a new place to fit in -- I didn't think the book needed both the swimming and the poetry. Sam just began to have too many identities for me -- OCD Sam, mean girl Sam, swimmer Sam (or Summer Sam, as her therapist calls her) and then Poet Sam.
With Poet's Corner came a bunch of new characters with new issues (including a love interest for Sam) and for me, that's when the story began to drift off course. Along with Poet's Corner also came a really weird revelation, something that happened at the end of the book. (highlight for spoiler) It's revealed that Caroline, Sam's new friend, is a girl from school who committed suicide. She's dead and Sam hallucinated her. Sam's therapist says that OCD doesn't involve hallucinations, but they'll "figure it out." What? (end spoiler).
This revelation really seemed to come out of nowhere and wasn't resolved. It didn't seem to fit into the story at all. (If there were any way to convince me that it did fit, I think it needed to happen much earlier and be better explained.)
Though that ending really threw me, there were definitely things I enjoyed about Every Last Word. In theme and structure, it reminded me a bit of This Song Will Change Your Life, so if you're a fan of that, you might want to try this. I'll be giving my ARC (along with some cool ELW swag I was sent) away during this week's Freebie Friday, so if you haven't read this, be sure to stop by!