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Kissing doorknobs

by Terry Spencer Hesser


Book Review

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Publishers Weekly :

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Hesser's unusually polished debut novel brings a singularly compassionate wit to a singularly painful topic. Tara Sullivan does not know how or why she lost "possession" of her thoughts, but she can trace her terrible problem to her 11th year, when the rhyme "Step on a crack, break your mother's back!" begins to run insistently and ceaselessly through her head. Propelled by a series of irrational fears, Tara counts sidewalk cracks on her way to school and then enacts other equally bizarre rituals (among them, praying aloud when anyone swears; kissing her fingers after touching the doorknob). Her strange behavior puzzles neighbors, alienates her friends and drives her mother into nearly murderous rages. Through Tara's first-person narrative, Hesser compellingly expresses both the anguish and the dark humor of the heroine's obsessive-compulsive disorder (identified near the end of the book, when she begins therapy). At times descriptions of her entrapment are so vivid and intense that readers may need to come up for air. But the lively characterizations (especially of Tara's closest friends and pugilistic younger sister) prevent the protagonist's psychological confinement from becoming claustrophobic to readers. Hesser's thoroughly credible narrative ("I have experienced some of the obsessions and compulsions I have written about," Hesser states in her acknowledgments), and fascinating story promote both an intellectual and emotional understanding of a treatable disease. Ages 12-up.

Copyright 1998 Cahners Business Information, Inc.
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Book Review

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School Library Journal :

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Gr 6 Up--In this excellent, absorbing first novel, Hesser introduces readers to Obsessive Compulsive Disorder through the experiences of 11-year-old Tara. The girl suddenly feels compelled to follow strange, meaningless rituals to deal with the anxieties that have plagued her all her life. To protect her mother from a broken back, she must not only avoid stepping on sidewalk cracks but also count them endlessly. To ensure her parents' safe return after a night out, she must pronounce a set of prayers perfectly five times, stand directly in front of two different clocks and look at the time, turn the knob of the front door with equal pressure on each finger, and then stand in the exact center of the road and look both ways twice. Each psychiatrist she sees has a different, incorrect diagnosis. Tara's behavior strains her friendships, and her family begins to shatter, creating more anxiety. Finally, a concerned teacher identifies a "doorknob kissing" ritual as a symptom of OCD and steers her toward help. The book does not end with an instant or perfect cure, but Tara at 14 does have reason to hope for a life free from the "tyrants in her head." Hesser's deft treatment turns this account of an unusual condition into an honest, fresh, and multilayered story to which readers will instantly relate. The author's treatment of the subject is thorough and thoughtful but not heavy-handed. The prose is forthright, economical, and peppered with wry humor, making this a great pick for reluctant readers.

July Siebecker, Hubbard Memorial Library, MA

Copyright 1998 Cahners Business Information, Inc.
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