I love to interview writers about their books and I have found this year that many writers go above and beyond when it comes to being gracious and generous about their work. This is the case with today’s author, Tamara Ireland Stone. You will see the compassion that she has through this interview for her friends and family and her warmth and gratefulness that she has given me for sharing about her book is just as genuine. When you find authors like that, it makes you want to promote them even more so we not only included Every Last Word in our must-reads for the month, but we also want to share more about Tamara’s story here and the beautiful story of C. who inspired this book featured today.
Mental illness books in the YA category seem to be a growing trend and I think it is a good thing. All the Bright Places, read and shared with you last month, tackled the issue of bipolar disorder and Every Last Word sheds light on the difficulties of being a teen with OCD. Stone illustrates our common misconceptions of OCD (the main character doesn’t even have a tidy room!) and tackles the harder stuff like what it would be like to be obsessive with something like the number 3 and not being able to drive your friends because your odometer must always have that number on it.
Samantha McAllister looks just like the rest of the popular girls in her junior class. But hidden beneath the straightened hair and expertly applied makeup is a secret that her friends would never understand: Sam has Purely-Obsessional OCD and is consumed by a stream of dark thoughts and worries that she can’t turn off.
Second-guessing every move, thought, and word makes daily life a struggle, and it doesn’t help that her lifelong friends will turn toxic at the first sign of a wrong outfit, wrong lunch, or wrong crush. Yet Sam knows she’d be truly crazy to leave the protection of the most popular girls in school. So when Sam meets Caroline, she has to keep her new friend with a refreshing sense of humor and no style a secret, right up there with Sam’s weekly visits to her psychiatrist.
Caroline introduces Sam to Poet’s Corner, a hidden room and a tight-knit group of misfits who have been ignored by the school at large. Sam is drawn to them immediately, especially a guitar-playing guy with a talent for verse, and starts to discover a whole new side of herself. Slowly, she begins to feel more “normal” than she ever has as part of the popular crowd . . . until she finds a new reason to question her sanity and all she holds dear.
The camaraderie of friendship and group therapy through writing reminded me of the beautiful friendships in The Fault In Our Stars.
The story is well-written and age-appropriate for teens (there is one sex scene), but I think it would be a great one to read and then talk about with your teens about the struggles of fitting in, how everyone struggles with something, and how important it is to be your own person. Samantha is a character that really blossoms on the page. YA fans who are moms will enjoy this one too as the book brings a satisfying twist at the end.
Today I invite you to grab your cup of coffee and settle in with Tamara Ireland Stone as she shares her inspiration for this story and the parallels of her own life she has faced that helped her be empathetic to the struggles of the amazing character she has created in Sam!
Sam, the main character in your story, is a teen secretly struggling with OCD. Why did you decide to talk about this illness and what do you hope your YA readers will gain from sharing this story?
I first became interested in telling a story about a teen with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) when a close family friend was diagnosed four years ago, at age twelve.
We’re keeping her identity under wraps, so I call her C.
It was heartbreaking to hear how the disorder affected her. She couldn’t sleep. She felt powerless to a stream of negative, often terrifying thoughts. And her group of friends unknowingly made things harder. I couldn’t imagine dealing with something so intense, especially at such a young age.
In the years that followed her initial diagnosis, I’ve been so inspired by the way C and her family tackled this disorder—together. They worked in lock step with her psychiatrist, who prescribed medication to help her sleep at night and quiet her mind during the day. They interviewed therapists until they landed on one their daughter felt she could trust and confide in. And they helped her channel her energy into activities that made her feel good about herself.
They’re the reason I wanted to write this story. They set such a positive example, and it was one I felt inspired to share.
When I asked if I could write Every Last Word and draw upon some of their experiences, they agreed wholeheartedly. C hoped this story would help teens who are struggling with mental illness know they’re not alone, and not “broken.” And she hoped that this story would help people who don’t have to deal with mental health conditions see those who do through a kinder, more sympathetic lens.
This story is for her, and for all the special, powerful, brilliant, not-at-all-broken minds like hers.
There seems to be a growing trend to talk about mental illness right now in YA fiction. Why do you think it has become an important theme in this genre of literature?
It’s interesting to me that all of these stories are coming out this year. As authors, we obviously didn’t intend to start or be part of a “trend.” We all just happened to start writing books we thought needed to be written.
Many people in my life are dealing with various mental health conditions, either personally or with their children. We talk about it. And as parents, we’ve opened the conversation with our kids in an effort to make it a safe, judgment-free topic. I think that’s an important real-life trend.
My son was having some anxiety issues when I first started writing Every Last Word. He was barely 11-years-old at the time. I bought an illustrated book about anxiety, and we sat down and read it together. When we got to the symptoms—racing heart, shortness of breath, stomachaches—he broke into tears. He finally said, “It’s anxiety? I thought I had cancer!”
The fear he’d built up in his mind was so much worse than the reality.
Anxiety. There. It had a name. Rather than feeling the emotion accelerate and letting fear turn it into something completely different, he had a word. He could say, “I’m feeling anxious,” and we’d know what to do.
Words have such power.
As parents, we actively talk with our kids about exercise and eating well. We take them in for checkups and closely monitor their physical health and development. Why do we tend to treat mental health so differently?
I’m thrilled to see so many novels tackling mental illness in teens. Together, I hope we’re helping to change to narrative, using fiction to spread the message that it’s okay to talk openly about what’s going on in your brain, it’s okay if your mind works differently, and it’s okay if you need help.
Teens are under more pressure to be “perfect” than ever before. Let’s tell them they’re perfect exactly the way they are.
Sam really struggles to fit in with her peers and particularly struggles with a group of fake friends that don’t honor the real rules of friendship. Did you relate to Sam’s struggle to fit in from when you were in high school?
I was lucky to have great friends in middle school and high school, but my family moved a lot, so I was constantly making new ones. I was the new kid. And I was awkward. My friends never made me feel like the odd girl out, but I always felt like I was.
And yes, I’ve had those “mean girl” friends at a few points in my life, too. I definitely channeled a lot of my own challenges with female friendships into this story.
I won’t give it away, but you decide to create a really great twist at the end of the book that I, honestly, did not see coming. Did you always know you were going to twist the plot this way or did it come to you as you were writing it?
I did. That was always a huge part of the story, from the original outline. It was the trickiest aspect of the novel to write, but without question, my favorite.
In one line you state, “Everyone’s got something. Some people are just better actors than others.” What is one thing you have acted your way out of in your own life that people might be surprised to know?
In my mid-20s, I landed my dream job with a fast-growing public relations firm. I climbed the ladder quickly, and before long I was managing some of our largest accounts. I loved my job, even though it was often stressful and overwhelming.
But there was one job requirement I couldn’t stand: Presenting. I hated speaking in front of people, with all eyes on me, and I did everything I could to avoid it.
I finally confided in one of the partners.
He reminded me that I was the expert. That I knew the client and the material better than anyone else. And then he smiled and said, “You know what they say, ‘Fake it till you make it.’”
I needed that. I made that my mantra.
Over the years, I’ve had this conversation with many business professionals, and more recently, with my author friends. Some of the most polished presenters have admitted that they feel terrified before they step up on that stage. That it takes a big dose of courage and a lot of “faking it” to make it through.
The poem in Every Last Word called “As If” was inspired by this idea. Sometimes we need to act our way out of fear.
Oddly, now I’ve gone and put myself in a career where I present on bigger stages, to more people than I’ve ever addressed before, where the stakes are even higher. And yes, it’s still scary. I always feel like I’m faking confidence when I fist step on stage and begin talking. But at some point, I begin to relax. I connect with the crowd and start to have fun, and pretty soon, I’m no longer faking it.
I’m still wondering when I’ll actually feel like I’ve made it.
If you could tell anyone to read one book right now (other than your own) what would that book be?
That’s easy. Jandy Nelson’s “I’ll Give You the Sun.” (EDITOR’S NOTE- We LOVE Jandy! Check out our interview with the author HERE and our review of her beautiful book!)
If you like Every Last Word’s message about the healing power of writing, you’ll love the way this novel celebrates the healing power of art. It’s so brilliantly crafted, told in alternating viewpoints by brother and sister twins—his story tells the past while hers tells the present. I’m simply in awe of Nelson’s ability to weave together different timelines and points of view into a beautifully written, emotionally gripping story.
Please check this book out if you haven’t already done so. It’s a truly wonderful read.
You can connect with Tamara Ireland Stone on GoodReads, on Facebook, or through her website! I’m always thankful for these moments with writers and I hope you will pick up this amazing book! You can always connect with me on GoodReads,through our books section of our site, and you can read our entire Sundays With Writers series for more author profiles. Happy reading, friends!
*This post contains affiliate links!