Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Flashbacklist: Kissing Doorknobs

Hesser, Terry Spencer. Kissing Doorknobs.
Published May 11th 1998 by Delacorte Press
Library copy

Tara has always struggled with negative thoughts, but when she overhears someone say the phrase "Step on a crack, break your mother's back", it plunges her OCD into overdrive. Starting from preschool, Tara recounts the difficulties she has had separating from her mother, her fear of germs, her interest in her Catholic faith and her obsession with prayers, and finally, the ritual she develops of kissing doorknobs that finally alarms her parents. Even though she has been evaluated by psychiatrists over the years, the diagnoses were always things like ADHD, insecurities, self-esteem issues, and even borderline anorexia when she becomes obsessed with her food. Her parents are busy, and Tara's quirks annoy them to the point where the mother at one point whispers that she will kill Tara if she doesn't stop her behavior, because it is embarrassing her in front of friends. Tara's friends are rather understanding, but even they have a breaking point, and in 8th grade Tara takes up with Donna, who shoplifts, accidentally has sex when she is high, and encourages Tara to go with her to a drug store and demand to be sold condoms. Eventually, a friend of her father's just happens to be by the house when Tara is exhibiting a lot of symptoms, and tells the parents that he thinks Tara might have OCD like one of his students. (The father rolls his eyes and sighs "ANOTHER diagnosis.") Tara meets Sam, who has OCD but has more understanding parents and a therapist who is working with him to try to modify the behaviors. Tara gets help, her mother starts taking anti-anxiety medication, and life goes on. There are lists of organizations and resources at the end; impressively, some of the links are still active!
Strengths: Tara's mental state is well described; the author notes that while she doesn't have OCD, she had some tendencies as a child and drew from those experiences to write this. There is an explanatory note from a doctor. Pinning down a diagnosis and treatment plan is still difficult with mental health issues. Tara's friends are supportive, but even they weary of her behaviors. The strain that Tara puts on her family is realistic.
Weaknesses: Keesha is Black and her dialog is in a quasi-Ebonic style, which doesn't go over well now. Donna is a "bad girl" and goes to a home for expectant mothers. The parents, even though they have seen Tara's behavior for years, refuse to believe anything is wrong with her. This is dated in so many ways. 
What I really think: Treatment and perception of OCD has changed so much in the last 20 years that I will weed this book. It hasn't been checked out in a while, doesn't smell great, and is a bit more YA than most of my titles now. My readers have been skewing younger for some time now. No idea why. 


Ms. Yingling

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