Recommended for ages 9-13
Daniel is a back-up kicker for his middle school football team, but he’s awful and he knows it. And he’d rather be arranging the water cups in perfect formation, anyway. Daniel has lots of rituals; behaviors that keep things copasetic for Daniel – in his mind – but that are wearing him down. He has a night time ritual that often takes hours to complete, leaving him exhausted and drained the next morning, but he works desperately to keep the rituals secret from his friends and family. When he receives a note from a schoolmate named Sara – nicknamed Psycho Sara – everything changes.
Sara believe she is a Star Child – children who have been sent here from other areas of the universe to help the people of earth. They are “different” from other kids; they have behaviors that set them apart. Daniel is a little concerned about Sara’s ideas, but she seems to understand everything he’s going through. She gets his rituals; the Zaps – the tics that herald the start of the need for a ritual; the Great Space; the Collapses. He starts talking more with Sara, who has an adventure planned for them both. Sara has answers that she needs, and she needs a fellow Star Child to help her.
Told in the first person from Daniel’s point of view, OCDaniel is a brilliant, heartfelt look into obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and other psychiatric disorders, including anxiety, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia. King’s writing puts real faces on issues we often read about but hold at a distance. I appreciate the We Need Diverse Books movement for so much; most importantly, for making sure that the kids in my library have books with characters that look like them, but also for taking challenges like mental illness under its collective wing. Kids living with these challenges have been almost invisible in kid lit, particularly as empowered main characters. Here, Daniel and Sara are funny and likable; they are students, they have interests, they face adversity every day, but they don’t want to be poster children: they just want to be.
Pair this with Susan Vaught’s Freaks Like Us for older readers who are ready for a frank discussion on mental illness and reliable versus unreliable narrators. For tween and younger teen audiences, Joey Pigza Swallows the Key by Jack Gantos is a great choice, and the American Association of School Librarians has an excellent article, Unpacking Mental Health Issues in Middle Grade and Young Adult Literature, which includes a link to a spreadsheet of middle grade and YA titles. An author’s note from Mr. King includes information about seeking help for OCD. This is s solid, and important addition to middle grade collections. Must-add.
Wesley King is also the author of the tech sci fi/fantasy, Dragons vs. Drones, and The Incredible Space Raiders. His author webpage includes links to social media, the author’s blog, and media events.