The Unlikely Hero of Room 13B by Teresa Toten is refreshingly honest, anchored by a memorable main character.
age 15, is vulnerable, loyal, and sometimes confused by his feelings
and by the actions of those around him. He is quieter than some, a
little more in his thoughts, which are expressed in limited third-person
narrative. His parents are divorced, and he lives with his mom most of
the time. She pretends everything is okay while enduring her own private
struggle, something Adam tries to both respect and understand.
Meanwhile, his father has remarried, and while Adam gets along all right
with his dad and his stepmom, the member of that household that
undoubtedly enjoys his visits the most is his little brother, Sweetie,
who is full of life and full of love. (Kudos to Toten for creating a
young, vibrant character that sounds and acts his age. Absolutely
spot-on depiction of a preschooler.) It is interesting to note what (and
who) each member of Adam's family clings to, and what they're willing
to fight for when the going gets tough.
When Adam isn't in one of
his two homes, he is usually in Room 13B. Room 13B isn't a classroom;
it's a meeting place for a young adult OCD support group. This book gave
me what I wanted but didn't get from the TV show Red Band Society:
a realistic look at a diverse group of kids who meet due to a medical
diagnosis but are not defined by their condition; people who are not the
"worst" examples of their condition nor the "best"; characters who are
relatable but not cookie-cutter. Each teen has a distinct personality,
appearance, and medical history. Their bonding sessions both inside and
outside of Room 13B are wonderful. They honestly try to help one another
rather than sabotage or one-up each other. When Chuck, the friendly,
caring doctor who oversees the group, asks the kids to adopt nom de guerres, almost all of them select superhero names. Robyn picks Robin, prompting Adam to immediately declare himself Batman.
is determined to win Robyn's heart. He has never been in love before,
never had a girlfriend, but he falls head over heels for Robyn. He is
not simply on a quest for love, but actually fascinated by this specific
girl. As the story continues, their friendship develops and deepens.
Adam's unconscious need to protect others extends easily to Robyn as he
learns more about her, and he tries to be a better person (and taller)
so he can be worthy of her. His OCD rituals are both aided and
exacerbated by his new goals and his growing awareness that things
aren't entirely right at either of his homes.
This book is good.
It's solid and it's interesting and it's realistic and it's good. It
sheds light on a condition that many people suffer from in silence and
shame, and instead of reducing OCD to a punchline or over-dramatizing
it, Toten offers believable characters with various rituals and paths
to healing. The story moves at an easygoing pace with decent plotting.
And most of all, it has a realistic protagonist who is a truly good egg.
Adam is dealing with that wonderful, frustrating time when you don't
want to be treated like a child but you sometimes wish you were still a
carefree little kid, when you want to be independent but you can't drive
yet, when you realize your parents are people with their own histories
and bad habits and secrets. Just as the author does with his little
brother, Toten is also able to capture the appropriate tone for Adam's
age and situation. Adam sits at neither hero-with-a-burden character
extreme, not wallowing in unbearable darkness and cursing the weight of
the world that sits upon his shoulders, nor grinning from ear to ear and
boasting that everything's going to be fine. He's simply trying to live
his life. As his heart gets broken and mended, so will the hearts of
The Unlikely Hero of Room 13B by Teresa Toten is
a beautifully simple, steady coming-of-age story that I highly
recommend, especially to fans of Jordan Sonnenblick and David Levithan.
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