Finding Perfect by Elly Swartz

The study of illness narratives in middle and young adult literature has become one of my research interests, so I was happy to find Elly Swartz‘s (2016) Finding Perfect (Farrar Straus Giroux), a middle grades book that presents a realistic depiction of a young girl who struggles with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD).

Readers meet Molly, a middle schooler who writes poetry and collects glass animal figurines. She appears like any other girl her age. She has a little brother who drives her crazy.  Her older sister and her do not quite see eye to eye. And she has two best friends who could not be more different.

But readers soon find out that Molly is going through something that others are not.  Suffering from OCD because her mother left the house to pursue her juicing career in another country, Molly struggles immensely with tasks that others think nothing of: making her bed, taking quizzes, and counting.

Here’s what I LOVE about this book:

(1) Swartz depicts realistically the mental suffering someone with OCD endures. Too often OCD is minimized in the media and casual conversations.  You do not know how many people have told me “I’m so OCD” just because they like to have their desks neatly arranged. But a clinical diagnosis of OCD is so much more complex. Swartz’s ability to give Molly the narrative power to tell her story is as important for Molly the character as it is for her readers.

(2) It is a book about writing. I just love books that exhibit the power of writing. The story of Molly’s OCD is weaved within the a poetry contest of her school. A poet myself, I always appreciate books that expose readers to the therapeutic nature of writing. It is in fact a poetry reading at which Molly is no longer able to hold back what has been building up in her mind.

(3) Another aspect of the text I like is Swartz is committed to showing the power of support systems. One cause of Molly’s anxiety disorder is that she is unsure how to go on after her mom leaves the family. But when Molly finally reveals her true struggles, she experiences a wonderful support system: her family, her friends, and a fellow-OCD group participant.

Here one thing I did not super love:

(1) Swartz does a wonderful job building the momentum until Molly’s diagnosis. She provides readers with a superb example of a young girl who is truly suffering from this challenging mental illness. However, the book ends shortly after Molly is officially diagnosed and even though she does got to an OCD group and her mom moves back to town, it falls a bit short in its treatment of Molly’s life after the diagnosis. I wanted the complexities of her life after the diagnosis to be more fleshed out.

Overall, Finding Perfect is a book that I hope to include in future pieces about OCD in middle grades and young adult texts. It is a wonderful text to share with readers who are either experiencing OCD or would benefit from a realistic portrayal of what is often a misunderstood mental illness.

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