5 autographed copies will be given away on Friday, December 16, 2016!
2015 Cybils Young Adult Fiction Award Winner • 2015 Goodreads Choice Awards Best Young Adult Fiction Semifinalist • 2015 YALSA Teens’ Top Ten Pick • 2016 Georgia Peach Book Award for Teen Readers Nominee • 2015 Northern California Book Award Nominee
If you could read my mind, you wouldn’t be smiling.
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.
Exclusive interview with the author:
1) How did you come up with the idea for Every Last Word?
When I first came up with the idea for this story, I’d been thinking a lot about words like “normal” and “perfect” and the power they can have on people, especially teens.
I wanted to write a story about a girl who looked perfect on the outside but felt exactly the opposite on the inside. I think that’s something so many of us can relate to—the idea of putting on a mask to become someone we think others want us to be.
Around the same time, a friend’s teen daughter was diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). She couldn’t sleep for more than four hours at a time. She felt powerless to a stream of negative, often terrifying thoughts. And she didn’t feel she could confide in her friends, so they unknowingly made things harder for her.
I couldn’t imagine dealing with something so intense, especially at such a young age. And hiding a mental illness from your closest friends fit well with the story I wanted to tell. On the outside, her life looked idyllic but on the inside, she was often struggling in silence. I was honored when she and her family agreed to work with me on this book.
Every Last Word is a story about finding true friends, the power of the written word, taking control of your mental health, and being kind yourself and others. But ultimately, it’s a story about a girl who finds the courage to remove her mask, learns that life is scarier without it, and keeps it off anyway. It’s a story about self-acceptance and discovering your own “normal.”
2) What kind of research process did you have for this book?
My research process was exhaustive, heartbreaking and enlightening. I worked closely with three threapists, spent countless hours reading blogs and books written by teens with OCD, and interviewed people who are dealing with this disorder.
When my friend’s daughter was diagnosed, I realized how little I knew about OCD. Once I started researching, it became clear I wasn’t alone. This is an extremely complex and widely misunderstood illness.
People throw the term around all the time, saying things like “I’m so OCD!” to describe how they like to color code their sock drawer (which makes me cringe!). Most people have no idea how painful and debilitating it can be.
I took on this project because I wanted to better understand OCD. And while my friend’s daughter has a wonderful support system in place, not all teens have that. Sometimes, emotional support comes from the world of fiction.
I knew this was going to be a challenging project from the beginning. It was so important to me to get the mental health piece right, but I realized I’d never get it one hundred percent right for everyone—each person’s experience with any kind of mental illness is unique. Still, I went in with a goal to portray life inside Sam’s active, questioning, occasionally frightening mind as accurately as I could.
I’m absolutely overwhelmed by the emails I receive from readers—many with OCD, anxiety or depression—telling me this story made them feel less alone, that Sam’s words spoke to them on a deep level, or that they felt newly empowered to seek out help or to confide in a trusted friend or family member after reading it. If Sam’s story is making that kind of difference in people’s lives, it’s accomplishing everything I hoped it would.
3) Is there a soundtrack/playlist for your novel? If so, please share!
I’m so glad you asked. YES!
Music plays a huge role in this story (and in my own life). In the story, Sam has an obsession with music and lyrics, and she loves making playlists (all true for me, too). In addition to the playlist I made while writing this book, there are three playlists that Sam makes in the story: The one she listens to when she needs to calm her mind, the one she makes when she first meets AJ, the one she makes when she learns the truth about her new friend.
4) You use writing as a Coping mechanism in Every Last Word. Was that your coping mechanism as a teen?
Absolutely! But I don’t think I realized how much it was until I started writing this novel.
Something interesting happened to me along the way. Here I thought I was writing a story about a teen with OCD, but at one point, I found myself in tears when I realized how personal this story had become.
All along, I had been giving Sam tools to cope with her overactive brain. I gave her a therapist she could trust and medication that worked. I made her a competitive swimmer to give her a physical outlet. I gave her the sound of running water to soothe her. But somewhere along the way, I also gave her my coping mechanism: I gave her a pen and a notebook.
Writing—the simple act of putting words on paper and getting them out of my head—saved me when I was a teen. Even though I never let anyone else read my stories, poems, or journal entries, my notebooks were my safe place. My heaviest thoughts weighed a lot less on paper. Words were always my friends, even when I didn’t have many real ones.
I simply love writing. I love finding that one word that perfectly fits what I’m trying to say. I love putting words together, flipping them around, playing with them. I love the cadence of a paragraph, when sentences work together so fluidly, they sound musical. I love it when words move me to tears and laughter and swoons and chills and… whatever they feel like doing.
I loved every moment of writing this novel.
Every Last Word became a personal story about a girl falling in love with writing and learning to be brave with her words.
I never take for granted how fortunate I am to be able to share my stories with other people, even though the whole idea still scares me. But my readers are a lot like the people in Poet’s Corner. They’re positive, inspiring, loving and unbelievably supportive. They make me want to be braver, book by book.
5) What’s up next for you?
I am working on two books at the moment. Both are about the joys and challenges of close friendships.
My fourth YA novel is Little Do We Know. It’s about two girls who are next-door neighbors and lifelong best friends, until a secret and a near-death experience force them to reevaluate everything they think they know about themselves and each other. It’s a story about opening your mind, accepting others for exactly who they are, and holding on to friends who belong in your life, even when friendship isn’t easy.
I can’t officially talk about my second project, but it’s also heavy on the theme of friendship and it’s a lot of fun! I hope people enjoy reading this story as much as I’ve enjoyed writing it. We should be able to announce something very soon.
I’m especially excited to be working with my editorial team again at Disney-Hyperion on these two projects. Both of these stories are so special to me and personal in totally different ways, and I can’t wait to share them with readers.
About the author:
TAMARA IRELAND STONE is the New York Times bestselling author of EVERY LAST WORD, TIME BETWEEN US, and TIME AFTER TIME. A former Silicon Valley marketing executive, Stone enjoys skiing, traveling, and going to concerts. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband and two children. Visit Tamara online at www.tamarairelandstone.com.
5 autographed copies will be given away on Friday, December 16, 2016.
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