Thursday, June 23, 2016

Arc Review: Finding Perfect by Elly Swartz

Finding Perfect by Elly Swartz. 304 p. Farrar, Straus and Giroux Books for Young Readers, October 18, 2016. 9780374303129. (Review from arc courtesy of the publisher.)

Molly Nathan likes things just so. Her cherished collection of glass animals has to be arranged perfectly. Her homework is not allowed to have one erasure. She's at odds with odd numbers. And that moment just before she recites her poetry in the slam, is perfect. Unfortunately, it's getting harder for Molly to achieve perfect. Her brother keeps disturbing her animals. The work is getting harder in school. The rituals she keeps to keep her anxiety down are starting to get in the way. She's terrified that her best friend might find out. She's also yearning for her mom to return to the family. She thinks that if she wins the poetry slam, her mom will have to come back.

In the last two months, I have read four books in which the main character suffers from OCD - two YA and two MG. All were well-drawn, engaging and tugged at my heartstrings. In my book, it is most difficult to write middle grade fiction. The author has to get so much right and it's so easy to get things wrong. In Finding Perfect, we have a winning main character in Molly. She's not only facing common problems - family dysfunction and friendship conflict -  but she's battling irresistible rituals that are taking over her life.

I think it's safe to say that we all have a Molly in our life, especially if we are in education. We just might not know it yet. I think this is an important book. I'm not real into bibliotherapy. I tend prefer to give books not to the "sufferer" per se, but friends and classmates so that they might gain some compassion and insight. I guess I'm on a bit of mission to eradicate offhand comments like, "I am so-o-o OCD!" in both adults and students. No! No! No! No! Young people who are in the grips of this are crippled by anxiety and rituals. This book effectively, even brilliantly portrays the stark reality at an age-appropriate level for the middle grade reader.  (I highly recommend The Unlikely Hero of Room 13B by Teresa Toten for a brilliant YA treatment.)

Finding Perfect also features well-drawn secondary characters, including sympathetic adults.The dialogue is realistic and Molly's narration is nearly pitch-perfect. I think this would make for a terrific audiobook with the right, young-sounding narrator. I also think the cover is pretty perfect (take a gander at the spine art).

Another notable debut from the "Sweet Sixteens!" I can't wait to booktalk this next school year!

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