Title: Don’t Touch
Author: Rachel M. Wilson
No. of Pages: 432
Genre: Young Adult; Fiction
Release Date: 2 September 2014
Bottom Line: The ending does more harm than good
“Step on a crack, break your mother’s back,
Touch another person’s skin, and Dad’s gone for good . . .
Caddie has a history of magical thinking—of playing games in her head to cope with her surroundings—but it’s never been this bad before.
When her parents split up, Don’t touch becomes Caddie’s mantra. Maybe if she keeps from touching another person’s skin, Dad will come home. She knows it doesn’t make sense, but her games have never been logical. Soon, despite Alabama’s humidity, she’s covering every inch of her skin and wearing evening gloves to school.
And that’s where things get tricky. Even though Caddie’s the new girl, it’s hard to pass off her compulsions as artistic quirks. Friends notice things. Her drama class is all about interacting with her scene partners, especially Peter, who’s auditioning for the role of Hamlet. Caddie desperately wants to play Ophelia, but if she does, she’ll have to touch Peter . . . and kiss him. Part of Caddie would love nothing more than to kiss Peter—but the other part isn’t sure she’s brave enough to let herself fall.
From rising star Rachel M. Wilson comes a powerful, moving debut novel of the friendship and love that are there for us, if only we’ll let them in.”
Thoughts: If it were not for the overly rapid resolution of the story, Don’t Touch would rank quite high among the list of novels specifically for young adults designed to show them options for seeking necessary help, a la Laurie Halse Anderson. Ms. Wilson takes great care to show Caddie’s panic attacks, general anxiety, and constant worry, along with the compulsions that occur as a result. This aspect of Caddie’s story is gut-wrenching, especially because one can easily envision hundreds of thousands of teenagers experiencing similar levels of guilt and betrayal about their parents’ divorce. Caddie represents so many teenagers and other young readers out there who do not know how to handle their feelings at such a loss.
Thankfully, a majority of the novel focuses on Caddie and her issues, how she hides them from friends and family, and the impact they have on her relationships as she tries to keep her secret. The key lesson of the story is the need to seek help as well as the mantra that keeping secrets does more harm than good. Based on Caddie’s experiences, friends are always willing to overlook odd behavior and help when they know the full story – something every teenager needs to know and understand whether they have mental issues or not.
Sadly, the effectiveness of the message lessens when Caddie immediately starts to improve upon breaking her silence. Caddie is struggling with very real diseases that take time, therapy, and often medication, to control. Caddie does so with therapy and does it rapidly in the context of the narrative. This rush to Caddie’s happy ending diminishes the power of the entire novel, as it turns a serious disease into something that is nothing more than mind over matter. Readers seeing themselves in Caddie might not seek the help they need because they will believe they too can decide to change their behavior and do so with relative ease.
Don’t Touch is a remarkable story of someone suffering from mental health issues. Unfortunately, the ending does not mirror the rest of the novel. Caddie resolves her problems fairly quickly and with relatively minimal effort once she sets her mind to do so. While Caddie’s suffering is very heartfelt and realistic, the ending is not. Caddie still struggles and suffers but not nearly as long nor as much as she did when the novel first opens. She even manages to get her fairy tale ending. Unfortunately, mental health issues are not something someone can just mentally decide to “get over” and do so. That this is essentially what happens to Caddie, it sets a poor example to young readers struggling with similar issues and looking for solutions.