As a special education teacher, when I see a YA book where the protagonist has OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder), but the story has little to do with that, it makes me ridiculously happy. Most people either have or know someone who has been diagnosed with OCD or ADD or Dyslexia. It’s important that these people start getting represented in literature. From the summary of Every Last Word, that’s what I thought I was going to be reading: a protagonist who just happens to have a brain that functions differently, going about life. What this book actually is, is a teenage girl learning to be comfortable in her own head. While it wasn’t what I expected, I still enjoyed this novel for what it is.
Samantha is a typical teenage girl on the outside. She’s friends with the most popular girls in school, is a competitive swimmer, and is obsessed with boys. Sam, as she prefers to be called, is hiding her OCD, her weekly therapy sessions, and how much she actually does not like her best friends. When a girl named Caroline tells Sam she’ll change her life, Sam ends up uncovering her school’s secret underground poetry society, and her life does indeed change.
Tamara Ireland Stone’s depiction of Sam’s OCD is fairly accurate. What I especially appreciate about this is it shows that mental disability diagnoses rarely stand alone. Sam suffers from several anxiety attacks throughout the book, most of which would not have occurred if she didn’t have OCD to cause her thoughts to spiral down a vicious thought cycle. I think it is important that Stone shows what an anxiety attack looks like from the perspective of the person having one. Until I had one last year, I had no idea how horrible they actually are to go through. The one event I didn’t buy into is when Sam magically improves for one scene. Through the whole book, Sam will not park her car until the odometer ends in a 3. Towards the end of the book, she gets out of the car without thinking about it, and though it bothers her once, she’s able to drop the thought, something she previously wasn’t capable of. While I think that’s great, I don’t find it super realistic.
I love the story of Every Last Word. Sam’s therapist wants for Sam to get distance from her toxic group of friends, something Sam would like to do, but is absolutely terrified of. I think that is something most adolescents experience, and even adults, to an extent. Putting yourself on the line and making new friends is terrifying. Now add quirky personality traits and anxiety. It’s rough. When Sam finds Poet’s Corner and genuine, nice people, she doesn’t know what to do. These people show Sam how to have and be a real friend. I did feel that Sam’s popular friends were two dimensional, which was their whole point, but it was almost too much. Yes, they’re shallow. But even shallow people grow up and show remorse.
Stone’s writing flows beautifully through this novel. The poetry is beautiful, but every poet has a clearly defined voice. I read this book in about two days because Sam has so many good things happen, I had to know what the climax was going to be. She keeps so many secrets, it was all going to come crashing down, I just couldn’t figure out quite how. Then once the climax happens, I had to know the solution. I had to know how it all worked out. The ending was realistic, but definitely left me feeling good.
I think even though this isn’t a “geeky” book, meaning not science-fiction or fantasy, geeky people would love Every Last Word. I definitely recommend this book to teens who struggle with social anxiety. Sam’s struggles are not so unique that people can’t empathize with her. The story was well told, the characters are believable (for the most part), and the message is one I think everyone should be aware of: acceptance of differences.