Author: Tamara Ireland Stone
Genre: Young Adult | Contemporary
Synopsis: 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.
Would I recommend? To fans of realistic fiction.
Final Rating: ★★★★☆
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I received a free e-copy from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
Actual rating: 3.75
This book has been getting a lot of hype all over the bookish community, and I was hesitant to pick this up because I’ve been severely disappointed by over-hyped books recently. Even so, I was curious to see how the author portrayed obsessive-compulsive disorder, because I had not yet read a book that focused on OCD. I did have some problems with it, but overall, I thought this was a very sensitive, very considerate book. It did not romanticize mental illnesses like a lot of books tend to do. The portrayal of OCD was very tender and it was dealt with very nicely. I’m a little apprehensive about some of the decisions Stone took, and as a psychology student, these decisions made me question the diagnosis of the protagonist. Overall, solid book, and it’s definitely worth a read.
Be aware that there is a trigger warning for mental illness, hand-in-hand with anxiety and depression.
Samantha is a popular girl in high school, but she has a secret that she has kept from even her best friends: she has OCD. Well, she has the obsessive side of OCD- she has obsessive thoughts. She’s been seeing a therapist for a couple of years now, but keeping this secret from her friends is making her feel suffocated. One day, she meets Caroline- a laid-back girl who Samantha just seems to connect with. Caroline introduces Samantha to the Poet’s Corner; a secret room in school where a small group of people meet to share poetry. Samantha finds herself drawn to these people, to one young guy in particular, and she finds herself trying to balance her old life and her new life.
I’ve never read an OCD book before this one, so it was very interesting to see how Stone dealt with such a serious mental disorder. Like I said before, it was dealt with very beautifully. The OCD never took a backseat in the novel, but it also didn’t define our main character as she found herself maneuvering through unknown waters. I enjoyed the balance between the mental illness side of the novel (anxiety attacks, therapy, secrets) and the more commonplace things (friends, school, love interest). The two sort of bled into each other; they weren’t totally distinct, but you could see how one affected the other, which was very well-done. My favorite moments in this book were the therapy sessions; they had such a raw simplicity to them.
I liked the premise of the Poet’s Corner, but the poetry itself fell flat for me, for the most part. Sometimes the poems would break the flow of the story.
I enjoyed the relationships in the book; Samantha’s relationship with the ‘Crazy Eights’ is something every girl unsure of her friend group can relate to. Her relationship with Caroline was very tender, very beautiful and their connection was tangible. The developing relationship between AJ and Samantha was very sweet; it didn’t feel rushed or insta-lovey. The pacing was great.
My only problem with the novel lay in the plot twist. Even though it was very well done, and I didn’t see it coming until a few pages before the actual revelation, I thought it was very unnecessary. It made me question whether Sam had OCD at all because it took things to an entirely different level. The book could have done without it.
Stone’s characters were well-constructed and nuanced. I appreciated how Stone gave Samantha such a distinct personality, and we got to see her with several different people, which allowed for good character development. Often when authors write novels revolving around mental illness, they forget that they’re writing about a person with mental illness, rather than a mental illness itself. I didn’t, not even once, feel that this book was a book about OCD; this was a book about a teenage, compassionate swimmer who was suffering from OCD and trying to deal with this as best as she could. This is important. Even if you put that aside, Samantha was a great character. She was very relatable and lovable. I did wish that we got to see more of her family, since they were the only people who knew about what she was going through.
The secondary characters were also good, especially Caroline and AJ. Despite being secondary characters, I thought they were well-fleshed out. Even though I didn’t know much about either of those characters’ backgrounds, their personalities were still strong enough for them to seem real. The Crazy Eights and the rest of the Poet’s Corner were mostly just props, but I didn’t mind.
Tamara Ireland Stone is a good writer. She doesn’t embellish too much, and she has the ability to make her readers feel the sense of urgency and desperation that she’s trying to portray. She sets the tone very well so her writing doesn’t feel flat. I do, however, think that Samantha’s voice as a narrator was slightly mundane, so I could have done with a little more flair, a little more character in the narration itself.
“I didn’t go there looking for you. I went looking for me. But now, here you are, and somehow, in finding you, I think I’ve found myself.”