Finding Perfect by Elly Swartz – Review by Bridget Hodder
Most of us have done it, at one time or another.
We’ve joked about being “kind of OCD.”
We say it when our colleague keeps his desk meticulously neat; when our friend goes back to the salon the instant she gets a chip in her nail polish; when we check our phones again and again in case someone–anyone–has sent us a text.
Then we laugh.
But by the time readers finish author Elly Swartz’s remarkable upcoming Middle Grade book, FINDING PERFECT, they’ll realize there’s no such thing as being “kind of OCD.”
And there’s nothing funny about it.
Yet there’s plenty of warmth, heart, and even fun in this wonderful story.
Though OCD is a theme, FINDING PERFECT is not an “issue” book. It’s both a character-driven exploration of family and friendship, and a taut, moving reminder of children’s powerlessness in the face of adult decisions that deeply affect them.
What’s more, its empathetic perspective has the power to turn any reader into a mental health ally.
The intelligent, likable protagonist is twelve-year-old Molly Nathans. She lives with her loving, overworked father; an adorable little brother; and a wise older sister. When her mother left them all behind to pursue a job in Canada, she promised to come back soon…but she hasn’t.
So Molly dreams up a charming plan to entice her mother into changing her mind. But as her mother continues to break promise after promise, it’s starting to look like she may never return.
To make matters worse, Molly’s natural inclination to keep things super-neat begins to snowball into something much more scary. She’s constantly skip-counting numbers in her head. Or lining up her collection of glass animal figurines so precisely that she needs a ruler to do it. She even finds herself awake at midnight, sorting socks by flashlight. Her schoolwork and relationships are teetering on the edge of disaster, yet she’s afraid to tell anyone about it. Even her best friend.
Some things are impossible to hide forever, though, and Molly’s secret is bound to come out. She puts it this way, in one of the devastatingly honest poems she writes in her journal:
As time slips, it’s hard to hide
To keep my crazy tucked inside.
The reader is drawn in, step by step, as Molly’s disorder takes over, turning “perfect” into chaos. When Molly can’t maintain the illusion of control any longer, the narrative builds up to a harrowing climax, rendered so vividly it’s impossible to read without holding your breath. Molly’s been trying to keep everything together for such a long time, she ends up falling apart in a spectacular way.
However, the story doesn’t leave her, or the reader, in that difficult place. When the people who care about Molly discover the truth, she gets the help she needs at last.
There’s no “cure” for OCD; only techniques for managing it. Reflecting this reality, there are no pat answers in FINDING PERFECT. Thus, the ending feels both true and hopeful. Molly opens up about her challenges, and learns that other people can lend us their strength when our own strength runs out. No one with a family, friends, and a caring community is ever really alone.
And isn’t that something every one of us needs to hear and remember?
This beautifully-written book will uplift as it entertains and enlightens. FINDING PERFECT belongs on every middle grade bookshelf– in the classroom, in the library, or at home.
Bridget Hodder, a certified Wilson Language Specialist, taught reading and writing for several years to students with learning disabilities in a Massachusetts public school system. Her first novel, THE RAT PRINCE, is an Upper MG retelling of “Cinderella”, coming from Macmillan/ Farrar, Straus & Giroux on August 23rd, 2016. Find her online at www.BridgetHodder.com or on Twitter, @BridgetsBooks.