#WeekofReviews // Every Last Word

9:00:00 AM

I wasn't exactly sure whether or not I wanted to talk about this book for reviewathon (or at all) - then I realized that's exactly why I should. I have a love/hate relationship with books about mental health. On one hand, I think they are so, so important. I think it's valuable, particularly for young adults, to see mental illness represented in literature. On the other hand, I struggle with reading stories about mental health. I wonder if it's wrong to find a character's struggles compelling when, for many people, it isn't entertainment but reality - and an unpleasant one at that. There is always a part of me that wonders how accurate the representation is, and if someone is doing more harm than good by portraying an illness in a particular way. I felt each of these conflicting emotions as I devoured Every Last Word.

Every Last Word is about a "mean girl" who hides her struggles with OCD in an attempt to be an average teenager. I thought this premise was wonderful because while it's unrealistic to believe that someone would be able to successfully keep that kind of secret, it's something I completely believe that a person would try to do, especially if they were in high school. 

One of my clearest memories of being in high school is the desire I felt to be the kind of person that everyone wanted me to be. The most powerful moments I've had as a teacher have been the times where students have confided in me about their mental health issues: about the struggle to balance them with their desire to be "like everyone else," but especially about the fear of how they will be perceived if they seek help or if other people find out. 

I firmly believe that the stigma surrounding mental illnesses is what prevents many young people from seeking help or sharing their experiences with others, which is why I think representation of mental illness in YA is important. That being said, there are things that this book didn't do quite as well for me. The bullying storyline, for example, wasn't ever fully fleshed out and felt unnecessary, and the ending felt too upbeat in comparison with the tone of the rest of the book.

In spite of the things I disliked, I really did enjoy reading Every Last Word. I think this book, and books like it, open the door for awareness and communication about mental illness in a positive way.

How do you feel about mental illness in literature? Do you have book recs for me? Let me know in the comments!

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