The Unlikely Hero of Room 13 B by Teresa Toten
Published 2013 by Delacorte Books for Young Readers
291 pages, realistic fiction.
This was my favorite of the six books I read during Dewey's 24 Hour Read-a-Thon.
I got this book at the library to fulfill one of the YALSA Challenge slots, since it won the Schneider Family award for books about characters with disabilities. I read the first (short) chapter and then put it down for quite awhile. I didn't like that it started with insta-love. I didn't like that the object of the narrators affections had all the earmarks of a Manic Pixie Dream Girl. I didn't like the implication that Love would cure mental illness.
But the voice seemed engaging, and it was part of the challenge, and it was readily available, so I picked it up last Saturday and read it.
Toten doesn't do much about the insta-love, other than showing it progress from lust-at-first-sight to an actual friendship and relationship. But she blows the other two tropes out of the water. Adam and his OCD are so real and painful and gorgeous. His family, in all their messed up glory, are too. I love the way mental illness and the stress of living with mentally ill family affect every single family member, but all in different ways. I can definitely see why it won this award (although I'm a little confused as to why a book published in '13 won in '16). The kids in the group are also portrayed as real people who happen to be carrying some extra burdens. Their issues and their responses are varied and believable.
I am a little frustrated at how literature portrays psychologists, counselors, and therapists as either Incredibly Wise or Basically Evil, when in reality they seem, like all doctors, to operate with a mix of knowledge, experience, and good and bad guesses. Luckily for Adam, he gets an Incredibly Wise therapist in Chuck. Of course, Adam still keeps some secrets back from Chuck, so he's unable to help with them until they erupt messily. Maybe Chuck isn't portrayed as infallible after all.
I'm also still a little annoyed with Adam and Lisa's relationship. It lets us know that Adam is far more attractive than he sees himself as, but still, the ease with which they fall in love jars me. However, when they have to look at whether or not it's healthy for them to move forward as a couple--Toten is unflinching in her portrayal of how mental illness conflicts with what would be a happy teen love story otherwise.
Voice can make or break a book for me, especially teen voices. Toten nails Adam's humor, self deprecation, and agonizing fear beautifully. And don't even get me started on the side characters. Sweetie, Thor, and the kindly neighbor lady are some of the most lovable characters I've met. I want to give them all smooches and cookies. I'll definitely be looking for more works by this author.
P. S. I have no idea why I keep getting everything highlighted in my posts. I can't get rid of it; the best I can do is make it a color that nearly matches the background. Also, why do the first paragraphs appear to be in grey rather than black? Who knows. I do know how to change text color, but it's ignoring me.