________________ CM . . . . Volume XXII Number 35. . . .May 13, 2016



Wesley King.
New York, NY: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers (Distributed in Canada by Simon & Schuster Canada), 2016.
292 pp., hardcover & ebook, 22.99 (hc.).
ISBN 978-1-4814-5531-2 (hc.), ISBN 978-1-4814-5533-6 (ebook).

Subject Headings:
Obsessive-compulsive disorder-Fiction.
Mental illness-Fiction.
Adventure and adventurers-Fiction.

Grades 4-7 / Ages 9-12.

Review by Bev Brenna.

*** /4



As I began writing “19th,” my pen abruptly stopped on the page, halfway through the “1.” Then it hit. I call them Zaps…

…Think of the worst you have ever felt in your whole life—like if you got a bad flu or your dog died or you just got cut from a team you really wanted to be on—and imagine that happens when you take nine steps to the bathroom instead of ten. That’s kind of what Zaps are like.

This wasn’t a new thing. The Zaps happened, like, ten times a day—on some days, even more. I had no idea why, except for the logical reason that I was nuts. I didn’t feel crazy, and I sincerely doubted that writing “19th” down on a certain line in my notebook was going to result in the end of the world. And yet I couldn’t shake the feeling. I quickly scratched the number out.


Daniel, 13, experiences the desperate urges of obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), but he keeps it to himself until Sara, a new friend, supports understanding and future disclosure. Told from Daniel’s perspective, this novel contains many rivetting passages that identify in explicit detail what it’s like to be possessed by OCD symptoms. The “Author’s Note” at the back of the book identifies that Wesley King secretly suffered from panic attacks, anxiety, and derealisation at this age, and it explains how he, too, used ritualized compulsions to try and deal with his fears. King’s work clearly emerges from a place of respect for young people and diversity and a desire to serve mental health.

     An original aspect of the book is a creative short story penned by Daniel that is embedded within the action of the novel. In his imagination, Daniel and Sara have another kind of adventure in which they take on monsters and where the imagined Daniel finds his destiny and self-acceptance. This story, presented in different font, becomes a place where Daniel explores his deepest secrets and his dreams. It also offers him relief from his OCD fixations.

Writing was the only thing I could do that made any sense. I got to control everything. It was my world and my story and I could delete a sentence if I wanted and it would be gone. The Daniel in my book was normal. He was saving the world. He was the Daniel I wanted to be.

     While the book operates well as a realistic character study, it contains a somewhat problematic plot involving a mystery and adventure sequence that sometimes moves over-the-top. Daniel’s navigation of coming-of-age, complete with crushes and identity questions, feels authentic and current; however, his relationship with Sara, a classmate with atypical behaviours and an unusual backstory, including a pseudoscientific interest in “Star Children”, seems contrived. How the teens end up breaking into the house of a man Sara thinks murdered her father, complete with discovering a potentially incriminating letter and a gun, carries the reading into territory difficult to believe, especially when the kids involved are so smart. In addition, while Daniel and Sara’s unique characterizations are intriguingly complex, some of the other minor characters, including Daniel’s parents and football coach, are reminiscent of children’s books of the past in their one-dimensional stereotypical presentation.


Bev Brenna is a literacy professor at the University of Saskatchewan who has 10 published books for young people.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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