“Everyone’s got something. Some people are just better actors than others.”
I remember discovering this book at a local bookstore smack-dab in the middle of my thesis year. I was so swamped with work – write ups, planning and designing, and consultations with my adviser – that I only looked up the book’s rating online – a good one at that – before deciding to buy it. This book became part of the pile of books that I stuck at the corner of my work table in my room; books I planned to read after my thesis was over.
Now that I’m on my way to graduating, I decided to finally pick this book up and read it. It was a quick six-hour read, with an hour break in between to do chores, but nonetheless, the book was engaging and had me reading ‘til the last page.
The book’s synopsis goes like this: Samantha McAllister, one of the popular girls at her school, has Purely Obsessional OCD, and is consumed by a stream of dark thoughts and worries she can’t turn it off. Sam struggles to hide her OCD from her lifelong friends, who she knows will turn toxic at the first sight of anything not “normal”. Sam knows she’d truly be crazy to leave the protection of the most popular girls at school. So when Sam meets Caroline, 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 her to Poet’s Corner, a hidden room and a tight-knit group of misfits who have been ignored by the school at large. Slowly, she begins to feel more “normal” than she ever has part of the popular crowd… until she finds a new reason to question her sanity and all she holds dear.
Let’s talk about the story. The main character is Samantha McAllister, and like the synopsis says, she has Purely Obsessional OCD. Now, I’m not someone who is an expert on OCD or any mental disorder, but in my opinion, the book relayed Sam’s OCD pretty nicely (though I’m pretty sure some of you would beg to disagree). Intrusive and obsessive thoughts was something I had to live growing up, but not to the point that it induced panic attacks like Sam’s did – I learned to keep myself under control after a few unpleasant experiences in childhood, and I’ve fairly lived life in normalcy. The way it was narrated – how it just comes out of the blue and spirals one thought to another and another, and thoughts that take you to makeshift fantasy of a reality you wish would happen – it hit a little close to home for me, and I guess that was part of the reason why early on in the story I was already hooked.
The feeling of keeping toxic friends around to use as a social shield was also relatable. Sam’s interactions with her friends Alexis, Kaitlyn, Olivia, and Hailey painted a realistic picture of most crumbling friendships I’ve known. As a group, they were the image of togetherness, the picture of solidarity and friendship that years of childhood memories have forged together. However, looking closer, passive aggressive and backhanded comments were thrown around, and the shifting of blame and loyalties when something went wrong was something so true in fragile friendships that I could probably think of a few instances in my life where I or another friend encountered something like that.
This brings us to the core of what the novel is for me – coming of age and acceptance. When Sam meets Caroline, Sam is thrust into a situation that feels new and foreign to her, both exciting and horrifying. She worries that these new people would hate her and talk behind her back, and when the acceptance comes, she then attains the three things her psychiatrist wants her to achieve.
Friendship, inspiration, and confidence.
What I loved about this book was that despite it being narrated by a teenage girl in high school, it wasn’t centered to be a story about love, although love does develop in the story. Sam’s character development took center stage in this novel, and her interactions with her friends (called the Eights), the people of Poet’s Corner, her family, and Caroline and AJ only emphasized her growing to learn what it means to have healthy relationships and to know when to cut yourself off from toxic people you no longer feel is good for you.
Her developing relationship with AJ was, in my opinion, written pretty good. Some people might probably say that she obsessed about AJ instead of actually liking him, or even that they were unrealistic, but I think she liked AJ from a point she was on her way to a healthier state. As her conversation about AJ went with Sue, her psychiatrist, I think the main difference that Sam had when she started thinking about AJ was that she was already on her way to a place where she was happier and less worried of female friends’ approval, and she was at a point where she didn’t “obsess” as much as she did before. More than that, being in a relationship and having better friends didn’t automatically mean she was “normal” and cured of her OCD, it only helped her get to a place where she could be happy.
Just like with any injury or disorder, recovery isn’t an instant and abrupt thing that cures us – it’s a process that helps not just the body, but the mind and spirit as well.
Overall, I liked Sam as the main character. She was weak, yes, but she also aspired to be strong. She knew what she wanted: good friends, writing, swimming, a scholarship, and eventually, a relationship. I liked the minor characters as well. Sydney’s comic relief in Poet’s Corner made heavier interactions move to lighter topics, and Hailey’s development from Friend # 5 of the Eights to becoming someone who stood up for what she believed was right was a refreshing and feel-good.
More than anything, I loved how this book reminded me so much of why I started writing in college again. I’ve always loved drawing and writing, but with my college program, writing took a back seat for such long time that I didn’t start writing for an audience up until my third year. My experience being in the college paper pretty much mirrored Sam’s experience in the Poet’s Corner: writing became a way to express emotions as well as a therapeutic outlet, and in sharing what we have written, we gained friends we didn’t know we’d make, and being able to contribute to something bigger than ourselves.
I read a few people say Sam’s characterization was too inconsistent, and that most of the relationships in the book – Poet’s Corner, her psychiatrist, and her friends from the Eights – were pretty unrealistic, but in my opinion, I think the book was written in a way that would keep readers interested and engaged. Simplified in some ways, yes, but I think that if it wasn’t, the story would be longer and would go off on unnecessary tangents that would make the main story’s narration suffer. For me, the book was written and paced very well.
The twist at the end was unexpected though, but looking back at previous interactions I supposed I should’ve had a hint of it coming. No spoilers though, but the twist towards the ending would really reel you in to finish the last pages of the book – I got to that point in the book just as I was planning to fall asleep after a few pages, and needless to say, I slept later just to finish the book.
Overall, I’d give this book an 8.5/10. I enjoyed reading it, and I would definitely recommend it to some of my friends that I know would enjoy it. I’m definitely on the lookout for the author’s other works, so there’s that as well.
How about you? Have you read the book? If you have, what are your thoughts on the book? Leave a comment and let me know.