**spoiler alert** Every Last Word is the story of a young woman in high school who struggles to manage her mental illness while attempting to conceal**spoiler alert** Every Last Word is the story of a young woman in high school who struggles to manage her mental illness while attempting to conceal it from her friends. We quickly learn that she and her friends comprise the clique of popular girls, the highest of the pecking order who make it a point to ensure that everybody underneath them knows their status by making their lives miserable. While Sam struggles internally with her mixed feelings about her friends and treatment of her peers, she starts to have to make decisions about who her real friends are.
Along the way, she discovers a secret (literally underground) society of poets, the schools' outcasts who hide away during lunch hour to perform poetry, spoken word, and musical compositions with each other in a non-judgemental setting. There is of course drama as Sam has to prove herself to this group of people, led by a student she had mercilessly bullied throughout his life. Of course, all of this is still happening while she tries to conceal her obsessive compulsive disorder from others.
Boiled down, Every Last Word is a fantasy novel where the popular girl realizes that she was an asshole, finds real friends, apologizes to those whom she wronged (and starts dating one, no less), realizes that it's important to be open to her friends about her OCD, and lives happily ever after.
As a woman who was bullied incessantly throughout my entire primary school life, and sympathizes so much with AJ (and not only because of our names), I really found his motivation for forgiving Sam so quickly, and starting to become romantically involved with her, rather absent. Even now, 13 years after graduating from high school, I'm not sure I'd give any one of my ex-tormenters the time of day, much less become their BFF and jump into the sack with them. And if it did happen, it'd take more than a few weeks to gain the trust of people who spent years making me hate going to school every day. I liked AJ as a character, and I'm really glad he wasn't much of a manic-pixie-dream-boy, but I just don't buy it. I appreciate that the author tried to tackle the subject of bullying from both perspectives, but I think it was lacking pretty much all around.
I also found Sam's experiences with her obsessive compulsive disorder to be rather conveniently tidy. Firstly, and I don't know why so many authors do this, psychiatrists these days don't give therapy, they prescribe meds. Most psychiatrist visits are about 20 minutes long, and while the doc does discuss the larger issues going on in life (mood, sleep, obsessions, compulsions, hallucinations, etc.), psychiatrists don't get trained in formal therapeutic techniques such as CBT, DBT, ACT or anything else. Sam would have been seeing both a psychiatrist (for meds) and a therapist / psychologist / counselor for therapy. Secondly, Sam's illness, while clearly triggered by the stress of maintaining a facade around the popular girls she's friends with, pretty much disappears entirely by the end of the book. I'm not saying that's impossible, but it's sort of like a perfect package with a dainty bow on top. I would have found the book more believable if it was still a work in progress for her.
All in all, I enjoyed reading Every Last Word, if for no other reason than it was well written and compelling. While I don't find the storyline to be at all believable, it is a work of fiction, so I suppose in an alternate universe it could be quite true....more