Poetry, Swimming, and OCD by Cassie Walizer

every last wordOnly once in a generation does a book come into the lives of young adults that not only offers entertainment, but also teaches them truths of the world to which they have not been exposed. Tamara Ireland Stone’s Every Last Word flawlessly weaves themes of mental illness into the realities of every day high school.

Samantha McAllister, a sixteen year-old in suburban America, is challenged with finding her identity and her social circle. Sounds like your average teen problem. However, Samantha has a secret: she has OCD. For as long as she can remember, she has been consumed with intrusive thoughts and panic attacks. No matter what, she cannot anyone in on her secret or she will be expelled from the Crazy Eight.  Until a new friend introduces her to the Poet’s Corner, a community of outcasts who share poetry. Will this be where Samantha can let down her guard?

Even by young adult standards, Every Last Word is a quick read. Stone’s extensive research on OCD and mental illness is clear throughout the book. It offers outsiders and insider look at a not-so-ordinary mind. Beyond the lessons around OCD, the book perfectly captures the pressures of teens today without sounding cliché.

As a reader, I continuously cheered for Samantha. Not for her OCD to go away, but for her to be comfortable in her own skin. There were moments throughout the text that triggered long forgotten experiences from my own youth. However, the second half of the book seemed to portray very serious mental health incidents through rose colored glasses. It didn’t seem realistic for someone to go through a major mental health crisis over the weekend and return to “normal” life the next week.

Every Last Word is an excellent catalyst for teenagers to have meaningful conversations around mental health. It would be appropriate for high school students and even as a first-year read for college students. I do not suggest it for anyone younger, as the themes are complex and mature. One cannot simply read and walk away from Word. If using in the classroom or with your own children, be prepared for follow up conversations.


Cassie Walizer is a higher education professional in Iowa City, IA. Reading is her escape from the busy life of a young mom, professional, and home owner. She loves biographies, humorous fiction, and young adult genres. Follow her blog at www.accidentaliowan.com or on Twitter @AccidentalIowan.