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Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Total Constant Order

***** Total Constant Order by Crissa-Jean Chappell. Young adult.

I wasn't sure what to expect from this book, though I knew I was intrigued. The back cover blurb calls it "a haunting exploration of one teen's experience with OCD and Paxil," which kind of makes it sound like an informercial.

I think that's selling a wonderful story very short.

Fin is a high school student. Her parents are divorced, and she and her mother have moved to a new town in a new state. But her outside world isn't all that's out of control. Her mind is, too. She finds herself obsessed with numbers, with counting, with doing things in a precise pattern, and she feels helpless to stop.

Then she meets Thayer, who's even weirder than she is, and the unlikely pair begin a friendship that helps both of them.

Yes, Fin has OCD, and yes, she ends up taking Paxil and we see the effects it has on her, but Total Constant Order is about so much more than that. It's about growing up, about being a teenager--and let's face it, teenagers with or without OCD feel that their lives are beyond their control. It's about facing the problems of life with a friend, about learning when to ask for help, and about discovering that parents are fallible people, too.

In other words, it's a coming-of-age story, not unlike a fairy tale. Only Fin's battling OCD instead of a dragon.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and couldn't put it down. The descriptions of what was going on in Fin's head were so vivid and clear that the lines between "normal" and "crazy," never very distinct to begin with, were blurred, reminding me of the hero's POV from Tod Goldberg's Living Dead Girl. I felt with her the frustration as she tried to get help, and fell a little in love with Thayer along with her.

And at the same time, Fin's mom in particular made me think about parenting and trying to do our best with imperfect knowledge and difficult situations, while being imperfect ourselves.

All in all, a wonderful, relatable story that applies to everyone who is or has been a teenager.


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