When was the last time you read a book that you simply could not put down? When you’re reading and you have to eat lunch or go to the bathroom, but you just cannot stop? Meeting Samantha McAllister and experiencing her inner struggles in “Every Last Word” is likely to offer just such an experience. It’s a journey unlike any other.
Samantha McAllister is a 16-year-old girl who, according to high school standards, has everything. A member of the “Crazy Eights,” a group of “mean girls” at her school, she has access to the best parties and tickets to the best concerts. She also has Pure-O.
Purely-Obsessional or “Pure-O” OCD is a form of OCD that affects internal thoughts. Since childhood, Samantha has suffered from negative thought spirals, obsessions, dark thoughts, and “minor” compulsions. When driving her car, she cannot park unless the odometer is on three. When a negative thought, such as wanting to cut off a friend’s ponytail, enters her mind, she has to leave the room.
Samantha’s illness makes her feel very alone, despite the group of friends she’s had since childhood. Her symptoms worsen during the school year when she must abandon her persona of “Summer Sam,” the confident swimmer, and become the popular Samantha again. But even while struggling to accept herself and her disease, and abandon the pursuit of “normal,” she also has to grow out of unhealthy friendships and find better ones.
Samantha finds an outlet through Poet’s Corner, a hidden room in her high where every Monday and Thursday, a group of kids meet and read their poetry onstage. For Samantha, Poet’s Corner is a sanctuary. She can finally be herself and in doing so, embraces the friendship of the poets. She meets AJ, a brooding guitar player who becomes her love interest; Sydney, a girl who writes silly poems on fast food wrappers; and Caroline, a girl who encompasses everything Samantha wants to be.
Tamara Ireland Stone, author of “Time After Time” and “Time Between Us,” chose to pursue research on Pure-O after the diagnosis of a teenager in her life. In “Every Last Word,” she creates a complex, relatable, and thoroughly real character in Samantha. In the relatively normal setting of an American high school, she creates another world: a world so deep and meaningful and unique that it creates a sense of longing in the reader.
I appreciated her focus on mental illness, an extremely important issue that I believe must be addressed by Christians. While my school provides excellent counseling services, I’ve seen firsthand that not all Christians perceive mental illness in an appropriate light. I have heard people say that mental illness is a weakness, that it is caused by a lack of faith. I knew a girl who was thrown out of her house because her parents could not accept her illness.
That’s why I think this book, as well as being a great read, may be helpful to young Christian readers. It brings awareness not only of the specific disease of OCD, but to the treatments available. It showcases a healthy patient/psychiatrist relationship, a healthy medication plan, and a supportive family. At a vulnerable and impressionable age, teenagers reading this book will see that their illness is not their fault and that there is help for it.
There is hardly a reference to religion, positive or negative, in the book. The name of God comes up, but not in a reverent way; for example, Sam thinks, “God, if the Eights overheard me say that, I’d never hear the end of it.”
Parents should be aware that there is a sex scene in the book between the main character and her boyfriend. It is not explicit and barely detailed. However, it is portrayed as a positive experience for Samantha, an outlet for her to feel and become normal. Having a boyfriend, and being able to be so close to him physically, makes Samantha think that she is getting healthier. Parents may also be concerned about the undeniable fact that “Every Last Word” delves into a sick mind. Certain thoughts and obsessions of Samantha’s may be disturbing.
Overall, though, Tamara Ireland Stone delivers an important message in “Every Last Word,” not only bringing awareness to a disease that has been on the rise recently, but also showing the importance of true friendship and family. Fast-paced, darkly humorous, and thoroughly gripping, the story of Samantha is one I will not soon forget.
Image copyright Disney-Hyperion.
Samantha Van Slyke is a student at Grove City College.