Author: Wesley King
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Publication Date: April 12th, 2016
Genre(s): Mental health, Middle grade, Childrens, Contemporary
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From the author of Incredible Space Raiders from Space! comes a brand-new coming-of-age story about a boy whose life revolves around hiding his obsessive compulsive disorder—until he gets a mysterious note that changes everything.
Daniel is the back-up punter for the Erie Hills Elephants. Which really means he’s the water boy. He spends football practice perfectly arranging water cups—and hoping no one notices. Actually, he spends most of his time hoping no one notices his strange habits—he calls them Zaps: avoiding writing the number four, for example, or flipping a light switch on and off dozens of times over. He hopes no one notices that he’s crazy, especially his best friend Max, and Raya, the prettiest girl in school. His life gets weirder when another girl at school, who is unkindly nicknamed Psycho Sara, notices him for the first time. She doesn’t just notice him: she seems to peer through him.
Then Daniel gets a note: “I need your help,” it says, signed, Fellow Star child—whatever that means. And suddenly Daniel, a total no one at school, is swept up in a mystery that might change everything for him.
With great voice and grand adventure, this book is about feeling different and finding those who understand.
This is a book about OCD.
I want to establish this, because although the plot of the book had many other things going on with it, that is what the focus of the book was for me, and what I learnt about this condition was my primary takeaway.
I think the beauty of the book lay in how Daniel’s condition was woven into his life along with the problems and experiences that come with the middle school life. Will his best friend remain his best friend in high school? Will the prettiest girl in his class fall for him? Will his father be proud of him for his effort in the football team? Will he be angry if he quits? I say “woven”, because I was able to point out how his experiences were significantly altered by his OCD. That’s what I loved about the book--his OCD was a very real, very significant aspect of his life that wasn’t portrayed as insulated from the rest of his experiences.
I have, of course, heard the stories and experiences of people with OCD. But this book made me feel on an entirely new level, the desperation and fright, the helplessness and and compulsiveness that is associated with this disorder. My heart broke for Daniel’s confusion at his behaviour and the way he struggled to make sense of it. He soon develops a strong camaraderie with the resident crazy of his school, Sara, who seems to be the only person that is comfortable with his OCD.
When he realizes that Sara is just as normal as him, he is understandably jarred. Here was someone what everyone proclaimed weird and crazy, but all he saw was her strength and understanding, and how normal she turned out to be. That was a huge step in his character growth, because it taught him that people with mental health conditions are no different than those without. They are people, and they deserve as much love, care, and attention as the next person. They are not broken. They are not crazy. This acceptance was what eventually led to him coming to terms with his own OCD.
A lot of this book involves Daniel silently suffering alone with this disorder, initially because he doesn’t understand it, eventually because he’s ashamed of it, and later, because he feels like no one will understand. Daniel’s inability to understand it was because his parents or teachers never made him aware that such disorders exist. The shame he felt because of his disorder was because he wasn’t aware that other people have had similar experiences, and that he wasn’t alone. His feeling that no one would understand was because mental health was never discussed mental health openly and freely in his social circles. OCDaniel made me realize me all that, and more.
Middle grade needs more books like this. I’d love for this to be required reading for middle school kids. Kids learn about conditions like this too late, if at all. I highly recommend this book for an enlightening, touching, and eye-opening read about a young boy’s confusion, shame, denial, and eventual acceptance about his mental health.