Buy Every Last Word
Regular price: $17.99
Reviewer: Melissa on June 19, 2015
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
If you looked further than Samantha McAllistar’s straightened hair and carefully applied makeup – in short, if you could read her mind – then you’d know that beneath perfect exterior lies a secret that the popular juniors she calls friends would never understand. Sam has Purely-Obsessional OCD, which means that she’s consumed with a stream of dark thoughts and worries that she can’t turn off. Readers of Every Last Word by Tamara Ireland Stone will see that Sam second-guesses every word she says, every move she makes, and every thought she has, in part, because her lifelong friendships become toxic with any “wrong” action she takes. Still, she’d have to be crazy to leave their protection, wouldn’t she? So when Sam meets Caroline, she has to keep her new friend a secret along with her weekly psychiatrist visits. With Caroline by her side, Sam finds Poet’s Corner and the tight-knit group of misfits who meet there twice a week. Sam’s immediately drawn to them, especially the guitar player with a talent for verse, and begins to discover a side of herself that she didn’t know existed. She feels more “normal” than she ever has with the popular girls…until something forces her to question both her sanity and everything she holds dear.
When I love a book by a particular author, I do one of two things. Often I do both. First, I check if they have any other backlist titles that I can dive into, and second, I often turn back to page one and start rereading the book over immediately. While I’ve always wanted to pick up Tamara Ireland Stone’s Time Between Us duology, even before Tiff from MostlyYALit.com recommended them to me the first, second, and possibly several other times, I really need to find the time to add them into my reading schedule after finishing Every Last Word twice. The first time I read Stone’s new release, I couldn’t put it down and finished it in less than a day. The second time, I slowly savoured every last word, swoony detail, characterization, tear, and most importantly, the way that the author infuses the clues to the novel’s climax throughout the book. Both times were absolutely lovely, and I have a feeling that there will be more readings of this story in my future.
How much did I love this book? Let me count the ways:
Unlike many books, TV shows, and movies that usually characterize OCD as a stereotypical series of outward compulsions, like repeatedly washing one’s hands or locking a door, I liked that Stone tells a story about someone with “Pure-O.” Sam does have a few compulsions, but they aren’t as obvious and they don’t conform to the stereotypes of someone with OCD. One of my favourite parts occurs when Caroline comes up to Sam’s messy room, and Caroline says, “I thought people with OCD were supposed to be clean” because it at once addresses the stereotype and knocks it out completely.
In addition, a large part of the novel deals with navigating friendships, which is a very common experience. (It’s something that I experienced between the ages of 11 and 14 in fact.) Sam’s relationship with the “Crazy 8s,” as she calls the popular girl crowd, is supremely toxic, but also indicative of the type of bullying that happens between girls. It’s the way that a teen girl’s actions, beliefs, clothes, etc. are scrutinized and torn apart. It’s the way that girls have to, if it occurs to them, find the courage to become who they need to be, even if it means distancing or completely ditching the people they’ve always considered a friend. Stone pulls off these complex relationships and growth in a way that seems authentic, healthy, and positive.
Remember when I mentioned Poet’s Corner and the group of misfits who meet up there? Well, they’re another part of this novel that I love so much. See, the “Poetic 9” as Sam calls them, are a group of teens with one thing in common – they don’t have any other safe place to go. While the reasons that they need some place aren’t clearly defined for the characters, Sam comes to realize that not only can the group be a safe place to share “the crazy,” but also she could be the person that some of the other characters need. Caroline, in particular, is the first person beyond her family and psychiatrist, who Sam can talk with about her mental health condition and who can share her own experience with medications, psychiatrists, and mental health concerns. Caroline is someone with whom Sam can share her truth, and this experience leads the way to making other meaningful connections with the rest of this new group.
Of course, Sam feels particularly “normal” around AJ, the guitar-playing character I mentioned earlier, the closer they get. Sam’s growing attraction to him and interest in being more than friends is so well done. The way she second-guesses everything he does and finds it hard to say what she really thinks work given her mental illness, but they also will speak to many a tongue-tied teen whenever they’re around someone they like. There are plenty of swoon-worthy scenes, including one that called to mind a song by Hayden, one of my fave Canadian musicians, called “Between Us to Hold,” where AJ teaches Sam how to play several chords on the guitar.
Finally, Sam’s relationships with her mom and her psychiatrist, a.k.a. Shrink-Sue, are incredible. Whenever things between Sam and her friends are verging on the toxic or Sam is in the midst of an out-of-control thought spiral, her mom is there to help her through it, even if it’s only via a text message conversation. Similarly, Sue is who Sam can count on to listen to her, and if necessary, to challenge her in healthy ways. Stone doesn’t clearly define some of the other adults in Sam’s life, and in fact, her father is only mentioned a couple of times, but this decision doesn’t take anything away from the novel as the most important adults to her treatment team are so strongly portrayed in relation to her and the story.
I have a lot of love for Every Last Word, and I’m certain that most of my readers will enjoy it, too. I’d particularly recommend it to fans of Nova Ren Suma’s 17 & Gone, Adrienne Stoltz and Ron Bass’ Lucid, Nina LaCour’s Hold Still, and Cynthia Hand’s The Last Time We Say Goodbye. However, it’s also a great for teens who are having issues with friendship and bullying, adults who remember similar experiences in their youth, and anyone who loves a good tear-inducing contemporary YA novel.
Buy Every Last Word today!