As readers, we all have certain things that draw us toward a book and certain things that we tend to avoid when choosing a book. I usually shy away from book that focus heavily on illness – probably the direct result of the popularity of books like Six Months to Live and anything by Lurlene McDaniel during my formative years. So when I had the opportunity to read Tamara Ireland Stone’s Every Last Word, I was a bit reticent about a story revolving around a main character with OCD. But I’d read Stone’s Time Between Us series and enjoyed it, so I decided to take a chance on Every Last Word.
I am so glad I did. The main character, Sam, does have OCD, but Stone does such an amazing job of portraying a real teenager functioning with mental illness. Sam’s in the popular clique at school, and she’s constantly trying to hide her issues from her friends, all the while terrified that she’s crazy. But Every Last Word is not the least bit melodramatic in how it approaches Sam’s illness. Instead, it portrays a very relatable girl who has a healthy relationship with her therapist and faces many small struggles in everyday life. Sam is not consumed by her OCD, it’s just a part of her that she’s learning to manage.
The story itself focuses on Sam’s growth as she begins to distance herself from her mean girls-esque group of friends in favor of the more diverse, accepting members of a secret poetry club at her high school. She meets a boy (of course) who helps her start to feel normal again, and she begins to make positive changes in her life that help her manage her OCD. Sam’s not without her challenges – in fact, one of the biggest was a surprisingly huge twist that I didn’t see coming – but she’s working in the right direction. I’m not a big poetry fan myself, but I really appreciated how poetry became an outlet for Sam and how poetry club was less about the poems and more about the friendship and acceptance that came with delivering them in a safe space.
I cannot say enough about how respectfully Stone handled the topic of OCD. She states in her acknowledgements that she has a family member living with OCD and was inspired to write Every Last Word as a result. She not only has personal experience with someone living with OCD, she also put a ton of research into how it manifests and how it is treated. And I loved seeing a trusting relationship between Sam and her therapist. So often therapists are portrayed in fiction as either the enemy or the only thing that’s holding someone together, so it was really refreshing to see something different and (hopefully) more realistic.
Also noteworthy is Stone’s portrayal of Sam’s longtime friendship with the popular clique; girls who were true friends at some point but have evolved into something different. It borders on mean girls behavior sometimes, but Stone never quite takes it there completely. Instead she lets these girls live in a grey area where they aren’t 100% terrible – they still care about Sam and appreciate her friendship. The book acknowledges the intricacies of teen friendships instead of drawing a clear line between the “good” friends and the “bad” friends.
Every Last Word is a sweet, poignant story about a girl coming to terms with her mental illness and learning how to find happiness despite it. But it is also a fantastic tool to help readers with no personal experience understand and empathize with people who live with functional mental illness on a much deeper level, and I think that’s important. Stone doesn’t make this an “issue book,” but instead leaves readers with an amazing story that will stick with you whether you realize it or not.
If you think Every Last Word sounds like a perfect summer read – you’d be right! Enter to win a copy of your own courtesy of Disney Hyperion with the Celebrate Your Unique Selves prize pack. One winner will receive:
- Two copies of Every Last Word for you and a friend
- A $50 Visa gift card to enjoy a day out celebrating your friendship
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Giveaway open to US addresses only. Prizing and samples provided by Disney Hyperion.