In a cover note Crissa-Jean Chappell included with an arc of her first book, Total Constant Order, she said, "I was unhappy with the way that OCD is portrayed in television and movies, as if it were the punch line to a joke." If her goal was to get readers to take the condition seriously, she was successful as far as this one is concerned.
What Chappell does with her main character, Fin, is get us away from the externals of OCD, the uncontrolled repetitive behaviors we think we're familiar with if we watch Monk, and take us into an anxious mind that needs those behaviors. Fin is into numbers, by which I don't mean she's good at math but that she needs to count, and she thinks of numbers during anxious moments, of which she has many. The counting remains in her head, but she has a variety of other small behaviors she can't control. She's aware that something is wrong, though she doesn't have a name for it.
Her mother wants her to see a therapist, which is interesting given the shape her mother is in. Therapy gives Fin a diagnosis, but it turns out that just taking a pill won't make things right for her.
Some readers may think of Total Constant Order as a problem book. I don't mind a problem book if it deals with one specific problem in a well-developed, coherent way. I think Total Constant Order does that. For a while I wondered if Chappell was piling the problems on a bit because Fin has recently moved so she's a new girl at school and her parents have recently separated and her father is dating and she has a lot of conflict with her mother. Wasn't OCD enough? Why not stick to that? But Fin has always had OCD tendencies. It's the extra anxiety from all these events coming all together that have intensified her symptoms and made her life miserable. What's more, you have to wonder how much the OCD in Fin's family had to do with creating some of these problems in the first place. We're talking a bit of a loop here.
I know many college-aged and slightly older young men and women. Among them are a surprising number of people suffering from depression or anxiety. OCD is only one kind of anxiety disorder, of course, but, nonetheless, Total Constant Order may reflect a reality for this generation. If so, Chappell has an interesting take on how the depressed and anxious may learn to cope. It begins with acceptance of your own difference.
Total Constant Order will be published in October by Harper Teen.
By the way, Fin moves to Miami from Vermont and comments on the good radio stations back in Burlington. That is so true.