The Unlikely Hero of Room 13B by Teresa Toten (2013, Delacorte Books) is a powerful young adult book about a group of teenagers who struggle with OCD. Toten reveals main character Adam’s struggles with this mental illness in a way that gives voice to those who have OCD.
Struggling after his parents’ divorce, Adam meets a group of friends in his OCD group. Group members take on superhero personas. Adam takes on Batman, and his friend takes on the name Robyn. Robyn, who is coping with her mother’s death, becomes Adam’s first real love. But what looks like a romance novel about two teenagers with OCD becomes a book about learning to love oneself above all else – even if means letting go of the people whom you love the most.
Toten’s presentations of OCD are real and vivid; clearly, she did much research to capture the differences between people who have this condition. Toten presents an honest depiction of this mental illness about which people know very little aside from popular culture’s often misleading representations. But this book appeals to a broader audience than just those who suffer or know someone who suffers from OCD. It is a book about first loves, the bonds between brothers, and understanding when to love oneself first. It is one of those books that really gets to you.
Here are some teaching ideas for The Unlikely Hero of Room 13B:
(1) I really like asking students to think about cover art. I have shared two different cover designs for the book above, and each reveals different aspects of the text. Asking students to analyze different covers – before or after reading – and even asking students to design a new cover for the text are activities that allow students to think critically and creatively about how to present the book’s ideas visually to others.
(2) If you critical literacy is part of your pedagogy, ask students to consider which presentations of OCD are shared within this context in contrast to popular culture’s presentations of OCD. This exercise will help students think deeply about presentations of mental illness in literature and popular culture.
Let me know what you think of The Unlikely Hero of Room 13B in the comments below.