Thursday, October 27, 2016

Review: Every Last Word

My good friend Alyssa and I are both bloggers (her blog can be found here), and we decided to read a book together and collaborate on the blog post about it! Alyssa is currently pursuing her Masters at Ohio State in children's/young adult literature, and will eventually earn her PhD and become a professor. We chose Every Last Word by Tamara Ireland Stone because Alyssa is doing research on the way mental illness is portrayed in YA literature, and Every Last Word focuses on a protagonist who struggles with OCD.

Every Last Word cover


A short summary of Every Last Word before I get into my interview with Alyssa: On the surface, Sam seems like all of the other popular girls in her class. However, underneath is a secret that Sam knows none of her popular friends will understand; she struggles with Purely-Obsessional OCD. Though Sam constantly second guesses herself around her friends, she knows that she needs the status associated with them. But when Sam meets Caroline, everything changes. Caroline introduces Sam to a group of misfits who are about to change Sam's life for the good, until she finds a new reason to question her sanity.

For this portion, I'll bold the questions I asked Alyssa, and her responses will appear below.

What aspects did you like best about Every Last Word?

A: I really like how it raised awareness of what OCD can be like for some people. A lot of people associate OCD with the compulsion side (cleaning, frequent washing of hands etc.). Sam's OCD is pure-obessional, which means that it is mostly internal. I think we really see this in the first chapter when she is afraid she'll cut her friend's hair. Also--her room is messy!

We definitely see it more as the novel goes on as well, with her examples of getting obsessed with guys too fast, etc. Going off of that--does Sam's tendancy to over think or over analyze situations make her an unreliable narrator? Why or why not?

A: I definitely thought at the beginning that she was unreliable because she would imagine scenarios and we (readers) wouldn't necessarily know that it was just happening in her head at first. It made me question what was happening at all times. I don't think this unreliability is a fault--it just helps us understand her disorder more.

It reminded me of Challenger Deep in that aspect, because in that book, the hallucinations and reality are woven together, so at times, it's hard to distinguish what is really happening, but it just helps to understand the character better really.

A: I haven't finished Challenger Deep, but I am hoping to soon!

It's so good! But in that vein, how might Every Last Word compare to other YA that features mental illness?

A: I haven't personally seen a lot of books that focus on OCD, so I think that is a unique aspect. Additionally, I really like that we get to see so much of Sam's relationship with her therapist. I think that part is done particularly well. I also think the twist at the end complicates the text in a way that I wasn't anticipating. This book represents mental health in a lot of positive ways, but it also is--at its core--simply a good story.

I agree! I think there's something in this novel for everyone; plus, the writing is done really well.

A: I agree! :)

Okay, final question: did you feel like there was anything missing from the text that should have been included?

A: This is more of something that I wish hadn't been there. There is a romance plot in the book, which is typical of a lot of YA lit. On one hand, I like it because it shows that people with mental health issues are capable and deserving of positive, supportive relationships. On the other hand, I would really like to see more books that feature heterosexual characters of different genders as friends (the reason I say that is because it would be nice for a friendship to exist where the only "reason" it does not evolve into something romance isn't because one of the characters is gay, bi, etc.).

I also wish that we got to hear the stories of the characters in Sam's friend group more. They aren't "evil," but they aren't shed in a good light. I think a lot of people at their school think of Sam the way we think of her friends because of the information given. However, we know that there is much more to Sam than meets the eye--so the same could be for her friends as well.

That's interesting, because we know that one of Sam's other friends is the odd one out too. Having multiple narrators would have definitely added a new perspective!

A: That's true. It might have been a bit much, too. I just always wonder about the other characters.

Especially when they're so one-sided.

A: Indeed!

Our overall consensus was that we would definitely recommend this book, because it brings up so many relevant issues and sheds a positive light on mental illness. Personally, I gave this book 5/5 stars.

You can check out my responses to Alyssa's questions here!

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