Saturday, May 24, 2014
The Unlikely Hero of Room 13B, written by Teresa Toten. Doubleday, Random House. 2013. $14.95 ages 14 and up
Oh, I love, love, love this book! Obviously others do, too. It is the winner of the Governor-General's Award for Children's Text in 2013. It is deserving of every single award it gets, and more.
It is hilarious, and heartbreaking, and heartfelt. Adam meets Robyn at a support group meeting where he is getting help and support for his OCD. In less than a second he is smitten. For him, there is no turning back. But, he has many other issues clouding his existence. He feels that if he can just quell his own obsessions, he will surely be able to help Robyn get better, too.
Adam's mother is a hoarder, frightened that the authorities may find out and warning Adam to never tell anyone what their home is like for fear of intervention. She has been receiving upsetting, threatening letters, and she voices grave concern about them while not sharing them with her son. His father is remarried, with a new young son. Wendall, called Sweetie by the family, is 4 and he is nearly as anxious as his big brother. Whenever he becomes impossible, it is Adam to the rescue. Only Adam can find a way to ease Sweetie's worries.
Because his parents are apart, Adam finds himself living in two houses. He is tasked with helping his little brother, while also trying to keep the peace between his mother and stepmother. It is not an easy life, but someone has to live it. While trying to get help with his compulsive disorder, he also tries to help each of the members of the support group. He works hard to control the many ritualistic practices that help him get through his days, especially counting which seems to bring an aura of calm to his daily troubles.
The pain for him is palpable. Reading about his compulsions is uncomfortable reading, but so real and clear. I am in awe of the writing that brings him so fully to life for a young adult audience. His effect on the members of his group is evident, and not more so than when his mother accidentally sets fire to the tinderbox that is their home. One of the group members is there when Adam needs him, helping to get his mom to safety, and to call the authorities.
The repercussions are that his mother is hospitalized, his father recognizes how bad the hoarding has become, and Adam is taken to live with his father and stepmother. Through it all, Adam realizes that he has new and loyal friends, needed help from his psychiatrist, and that Robyn will continue to love him even when they are apart.
Teresa Toten is superbly skilled at helping her readers learn more about OCD. It feels so natural to come to understand Adam, his illness and the restrictions it poses for this teenager. While she does nothing to downplay the real pain of mental illness, she imbues it with a lighthearted humor that occasionally made me laugh out loud. Thank goodness!