Written by Chua Jia Ying
Every Last Word
Author: Tamara Ireland Stone
Publisher: Hyperion, 2015.
Every Last Word was one of the books I read as I was doing my A Book A Day Challenge – my very last one, as a ceremonial ending to the project. I was admittedly hesitant about the story at first, but as I went on reading it simply compelled me to keep going. Never would I have known that 4 hours later, it would rise above all to become my favorite book of all time.
Every Last Word is a story revolving around Samantha “Sam” McAllister, a teenage girl with a debilitating case of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) hidden beneath her carefully crafted facade. With ever perfect hair and expertly applied make-up, Sam slips right into the textbook definition of a popular girl with popular friends. From the outside, it seems like Sam lives the perfect life – she’s beautiful, intelligent and popular, traits that would make anyone envious, but only serve to weigh her down as she struggles to cope with the dark thoughts that seep into her mind, courtesy of her disorder, and keep it a secret from her friends.
At the start of a new year, Sam meets a new friend, Caroline, who invites her to join a club known as the “Poets’ Corner” where she rekindles her connection with an old schoolmate and begin to delve into writing poetry herself. Although it was a challenge to prove herself worthy as a part of the group, she eventually finds solace surrounded by her words and by a new group of friends.
Contemporary novels with protagonists struggling from a form of mental illness or more are abundant, although the portrayals of mental illnesses in the vast majority of these novels almost never allude to the true natures of the illnesses. Nowadays, OCD is synonymous with the word perfectionist, a person who likes things to be neat and orderly. The word “OCD” holds little weight and is constantly being thrown around, its true menace lost to trivialisation. Every Last Word is a breath of fresh air. The utilisation of OCD as a plot device for this book is like none other that we are accustomed to, showing the true ghastly nature of the disorder through the narrations of the protagonist.
Every Last Word probed into a distinct variety of OCD, one that is purely obsessional. Tamara Ireland Stone dissects the common misconceptions of the disorder and showcases the reality of someone who is struggling with it – how it affects their mind and the people around them. While the knowledge one obtains from this book about what OCD really is merely scratches the surface, it still does a spectacular job showcasing the complexity of mental illnesses.
Stone’s writing style is both simple and elaborate, as evidenced by the masterfully authored character development of the protagonist, Sam, in such a way that remains articulate while avoiding being overly verbose. Stone artfully describes gut-wrenching scenarios entwined in the story and delivers incredibly realistic narrations, illustrating the emotions which Sam feels in their rawest form. This particular aspect was what made Sam such an endearing character who resonated with me. Stone also made poetry the focal point of the book, alongside mental illness – a feature that received my utmost appreciation as the poems were what I looked forward to reading the most with each flip of the page.
“These walls heard
me when no
one else could.
They gave my
words a home,
kept them safe.
Cheered, cried, listened.
Changed my life
for the better.
It wasn’t enough,
but they heard.
Every last word.”
It was highlighted that Sam’s OCD was based on words and thoughts, yet in spite of her fear of them, words eventually became her coping mechanism. By delving into poetry and becoming a part of the poetry group, she learned a way to channel her thoughts onto paper, controlling and managing them in a healthy way.
Sam is an easily likable character. Despite her disorder, she rises to become a strong-willed heroine, determined to conquer her disorder, to live like a normal person, to win a scholarship, to go off to college and to achieve success altogether. While initially fearful of being ostracised by her old clique of friends, she eventually learns to pry away from toxic friendships. While initially maintaining a safe distance from people for fear that they would uncover her secrets, she eventually learns to shed her ironclad armor and be true to herself. Her trials and errors throughout her journey of self-discovery marked her development into an inspiring heroine.
Despite being a manic fan of romance novels, I also appreciate the fact that romance took a back seat in this particular book. Our love interest, Andrew “AJ” Olsen is equally as endearing as Sam. Moments where the lovebirds are together are tactfully prescribed in small doses, not quite enough for the story to take a saccharine turn. Rather than having the hero rescue the damsel in distress, I was enamoured with the fact that the relationship between AJ and Sam is one that simply propels the heroine towards becoming true to herself. AJ didn’t rescue Sam or magically cure her of her disorder; the power was and still is in her own hands. His presence was merely an assurance that help was always there for her whenever she needed it.
“I didn’t go there looking for you. I went looking for me. But now, here you are, and somehow, in finding you, I think I’ve found myself.”
Every Last Word sees the world through the eyes of a girl who is suffering from a mental illness. It shows the devastation mental illnesses are capable of bringing forth and what it takes to be on the road to recovery. It’s educational, but in a light-hearted way, and captures the importance of mental health awareness in all the right ways. I loved how the novel ended and the lessons it instills in the readers. It has been a while since I’ve found a book so gripping, but Tamara Ireland Stone successfully conveyed a beautiful message in a book no more than 300 pages long that will remain one of my favorites for a long, long time.