A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Every Last Word is a contemporary young adult novel about a teen girl dealing with purely obsessional OCD and keeping it at bay enough to stay in the cool squad at her high school. The main character's mental illness and anxiety are explored in great detail, as is her ongoing therapy. The story features in-depth descriptions of the protagonist's obsessional thoughts and rituals. There is occasional strong language (including "f--k" and "s--t") and a scene in which a teen has sex for the first time, but it's not explicit or overly provocative for mature YA readers. Teens interested in reading about anxiety and mental illness will find Samantha an accessible and sympathetic character.
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What's the story?
EVERY LAST WORD is a contemporary romance about 16-year-old Samantha, who's one of the most popular girls and best swimmers at her high school. She and her queen-bee besties have called themselves the "Crazy Eights" since middle school, even though only five girls remain in the clique. The thing is, Sam really does feel "crazy" because she suffers from purely obsessional OCD, a form of the disorder that manifests mostly internally with overwhelming and obsessive thoughts. As her friends begin to let her down junior year, Sam meets the quiet and contemplative Caroline, who introduces her to a hidden room in the school where a group of misfit, artistic kids hold secret "Poet's Corner" meetings. In the Poet's Corner, the students read their poetry without fear of judgment or ridicule. One of the members, AJ, is skeptical of popular girl Sam's interest in the club, but soon they're getting to know each other in a way she's never let anyone get close to her. As Sam draws closer to Caroline and Sam, she must decide whether to be completely truthful about her anxiety and mental illness.
Is it any good?
Compelling for its romance, nuanced portrayal of mental illness, and valuable description of the difference between fair-weather friendship and real support, this is a lovely and memorable story. Inspired by a teen with OCD, romance specialist Tamara Ireland Stone chronicles Sam's inner turmoil -- her impulse control; her difficult-to-control, spiraling thoughts; and her need to count and write and think, think, think, sometimes darkly and other times simply repetitively about everything.
It will be hard for some readers to understand why Sam stays in the Crazy Eights when they can be such mean girls (or worse, enablers of the head mean girl), but Stone expertly contrasts the way Sam relates to them with the way she interacts with the kids in Poet's Corner, particularly Caroline and AJ. When she's with them, she's herself, no matter how vulnerable she must be to tell them the truth. Stone makes sure Sam's journey is believably strewn with obstacles she needs a lot of help to conquer, and in Sam she has created a character of empathy and inner strength who should encourage teens to be truthful and surround themselves with true friends.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about books about mental illness. Why are they important for teens to read, even if they make readers uncomfortable? How are Bea and Beck an unlikely romance in contemporary YA fiction?
Do you think Every Last Word could help readers recognize obsessive-compulsive behavior and anxiety disorders they might be struggling with? How can readers learn from Sam and her therapy sessions?
How does the book portray teen sexuality? What do you think about the fact that AJ is more sexually experienced than Samantha? Is their relationship's development believable?
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