Every Last Word by Tamara Ireland Stone
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She might look just like another one of the popular girls, but Samantha has a secret not even her best friends can know: she suffers from OCD. She needs weekly visits to a psychiatrist and prescription meds to keep her anxieties at bay.
As her friendships with the top girls becomes more and more toxic, Samantha desperately wants an outlet. Her search leads her to Caroline, a carefree, fashion-less girl whose frankness and kindness may be just the right rescue. She introduces Sam to Poet’s Corner, a place where students gather to share poems about anything from chicken nuggets to the loss of a parent.
Through the healing experience of writing and sharing her own work, Samantha discovers a whole different side of friendship and love. But just when she feels she’s finally making real progress in leaving her OCD behind, new symptoms emerge that could destroy the new connections she’s made. She has to face the devastating possibility that she could be getting worse, not better.
While I loved that her love interest had his own baggage and even had that past connection with her and her friends, I wasn’t totally sold on the relationship. (Moral soap boxes aside…) The scene in which they have sex was sweet in that it’s obvious he cares so much for her, but it felt like, “and here’s the obligatory scene in which the teen couple has sex because that’s what teen couples do.” It didn’t feel necessary. It kind of struck a nerve with me that really doesn’t have anything to do with the story itself.
I think my favorite thing about this book is Samantha’s journey trying to “fix” herself and her OCD. She wants so badly to leave her anxiety behind and be a carefree, “normal” girl. There’s no quick-fix for her in this story. Poetry doesn’t magically cure her. What it does do, though, is allow her opportunities to better understand herself and the world around her. It provides an opportunity for her to see her current friendships in a different light, and to see friendship itself in a different light. She has a chance to evaluate what kinds of relationships she’d like to have and what qualities make a real friend. Those are such powerful moments in the story. She’s also challenged by the openness and acceptance in the Poet’s Corner group. She’s been hiding her own struggles, and they become a barrier to having real friendships.
The poetry was a great addition to the story, too. Some were funny and clever while others were deeply moving. They added balance and depth to a lot of the more minor characters as well as allowing a larger window into Sam, too.
I felt like all those relationship issues were so relevant and well-described. It was impossible not to root for Sam and to want her to ditch the nasty girls and have those friends who valued her the way she deserved. I wish the boyfriend stuff had been handled differently, but I really enjoyed the other elements of the story.
Extreme profanity used with moderate frequency.
Sam briefly relates that she’s still a virgin. Her friends have had experience with boys, but no real details are given. She engages in a long, steamy kissing session in a swimming pool alone with a boy. Later, she has sex with her boyfriend. It’s a fairly long scene that focuses more on the togetherness and kissing than the actual sex. Though it’s not described in a graphic way, we know what’s going on, so it’s pretty intense.
References to teen drinking. Samantha takes medication for anxiety and OCD. She stops taking her sleep aid and has to have words with her therapist about it. I like that her meds or the fact that she’s taking them isn’t really villainized here. It’s not like she discovers a passion for poetry and that somehow cures her, and she has to find balance and face that there’s no easy fix for her. It reads like reality to me.