“If you could read my mind, you wouldn’t be smiling.
Samantha McAllister looks just like the rest of the popular girls in her junior class. But hidden beneath the straightened hair and expertly applied makeup is a secret that her friends would never understand: Sam has Purely-Obsessional OCD and is consumed by a stream of dark thoughts and worries that she can’t turn off. Second-guessing every move, thought, and word makes daily life a struggle, and it doesn’t help that her lifelong friends will turn toxic at the first sign of a wrong outfit, wrong lunch, or wrong crush. Yet Sam knows she’d be truly crazy to leave the protection of the most popular girls in school. So when Sam meets Caroline, she has to keep 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 Sam to Poet’s Corner, a hidden room and a tight-knit group of misfits who have been ignored by the school at large. Sam is drawn to them immediately, especially a guitar-playing guy with a talent for verse, and starts to discover a whole new side of herself. Slowly, she begins to feel more ‘normal’ than she ever has as part of the popular crowd . . . until she finds a new reason to question her sanity and all she holds dear.”
Thoughts on the Novel: High school is tough. To survive, one instinctively knows that one needs to get in with the right crowd with the right group of friends and avoid attracting attention. Sam has the first part down. As a member of the Crazy Eights, she is among the upper echelon of high school society, even if the group members can turn on each other as quick as a snake strike. The avoidance of attention is something she does not have under control, and therein lies her problem. For, Sam suffers from Purely Obsessional OCD, in which she gets stuck in a word spiral of negativity and nasty thoughts that result in anxiety attacks and insomnia. She has a few compulsions, but all of her fears revolve around the discovery of her obsessions. It is a never-ending cycle of anxiety and worry that prevents her from ever truly relaxing and enjoying herself in any sort of setting.
The only time Sam is truly happy and anxiety-free is in the swimming pool. Summer Sam, as her therapist has dubbed this looser, freer version of Sam, is everything School Sam is not. That is, until her friend Caroline provides the support and understanding she needs to step outside of her comfort zone. Together, they harness the power of words through poetry that is every bit cathartic as it is life-changing. Caroline pushes Sam to be happy, even if that means leaving the Eights and social safety they provide. Ultimately, Sam must decide who she is and what makes her happy, even if that means putting herself out there in a way that is more frightening than anything else.
Every Last Word is a unique look at a disease that does not usually garner attention. Unlike someone suffering from compulsions, obsessive thoughts do not manifest themselves in obvious manners. As such, someone like Sam is truly suffering debilitating effects; however, there are no obvious external reasons to explain her reactions to others who are not privy to such personal information. In high school, when no one wants to stand out or mark themselves as different, the fears associated with Purely Obsessional OCD are that much greater. Ms. Stone does an excellent job capturing Sam’s fears and daily struggles to avoid negative word spirals and obsessive behaviors. Through Sam, she sheds light on this unusual but equally harmful disease and reminds readers of the importance of empathy because one never knows what someone else is experiencing.
Every Last Word is a poignant, heart-breaking and yet uplifting story about overcoming obstacles and finding one’s true self. In Sam, readers see an incredibly fragile young woman not only struggling with typical high school issues involving cliques and popularity but also frantically striving to prevent her darkest secret from taking control of her entire life. The writing throughout the novel is gorgeous; the poems interspersed in the story are even more so. The characters are an eclectic mix of snobby mean girls, shy loners, and everyone in between, but none of them feel hackneyed. There is a freshness to the characters that exquisitely compliments the story and makes it a novel worth reading and sharing among young and old alike.