Friday, August 23, 2013
Me on The Unlikely Hero of Room 13B
Author: Teresa Toten
Release Date: August 27, 2013
Publisher: Doubleday Canada (Random House Canada imprint)
When Adam meets Robyn at a support group for kids coping with obsessive-compulsive disorder, he is drawn to her almost before he can take a breath. He's determined to protect and defend her, to play Batman to her Robin, whatever the cost. But when you're fourteen and the everyday problems of dealing with divorced parents and step-siblings are supplemented by the challenges of OCD, it's hard to imagine yourself falling in love. How can you have a "normal" relationship when your life is so fraught with problems? And that's not even to mention the small matter of those threatening letters Adam's mother has started to receive.
The Unlikely Hero of Room 13B is an honest and realistic look into a young teen's life as he struggles with everything. With being a teenage boy and falling in love with a teenage girl, with parents and divorce and a curious brother, and with every day facing the challenges his OCD provides. His complications and complex thoughts are the foreground to a background highlighting a curious mystery. Will Adam be able to overcome everything?
Adam is a very curious character. His thought are very candid, without artifice, but he keep those bottled up inside, feeding lies to anyone who will ask how he's doing or what his home life is like. He doesn't share his anxieties or worries, and because of that, he slowly ends up in a spiral, circling downward and downward.
His interactions with the other members of his group were interesting. Real names are rarely used, only code names taken from different superheroes. There are certain parts we share with people, certain things we expose to the world. These secret names form a barrier between them and the outside world, separating everything from what they're discussing during those meetings. Except for Robyn, her real name is always spoken, always thought about by Adam. Because he's in love with her and wants to be better for her.
Slightly in the background is an increasingly worrying situation with Adam's mother. Someone is sending her letters filled with horrible words. As her worry escalates, so does Adam's, and so everything escalates. Including their complicated home situation.
It's very clear that Toten by no means intends to ridicule or offend those who suffer from OCD, especially teens. Clearly, a lot of research has been done on her part in order to portray Adam as accurately as possible. It's interesting to read this book and to see how, in one circumstance, a person would think and rationalize certain mannerisms, rituals, and ways of thinking when they have OCD. To me, it seems to be about control, completing the rituals and counting and doing whatever it takes until the person feels that they have control of the situation, of the world around them. That they're no longer lost.
If there's one thing about this book that I didn't like, it would be the pacing. I felt so much was happening, but when I looked I was barely a third of the way in. Things keep happening to Adam, over and over and over, until it all comes together it one massive explosion. I just wish it could've happened faster.
I love how there's a part of Canadian-authored literature for children and teens that isn't afraid to tackle the big issues, the topical and important issues. Relationships, rape, violence, drugs, death of a family member or friend, and mental illness. Not talking about it, not reaching out and connecting with teens won't make it go away. I'm not sure how big it is in other countries, but I've found it to be a big part of Canadian literature. We seem to write to tell stories, to tell the story of someone who could be anyone, who could be any one of us. We write these stories to connect ourselves, to make sure no one is ever alone. Adam isn't alone. Another thing I've noticed is, with Canada being such a big country, our stories are often about one person's journey. This is Adam's journey.
(I received an e-galley of this title to review from Random House Canada through NetGalley.)