With frizzy orange hair, a plus-sized body, sarcastic demeanor, and “unique learning profile,” Danielle Levine doesn’t fit in even at her alternative high school. While navigating her doomed social life, she writes scathing, self-aware, and sometimes downright raunchy essays for English class. As a result of her unfiltered writing style, she is forced to see the school psychologist and enroll in a “social skills” class. But when she meets Daniel, another social misfit who is obsessed with the cult classic film The Big Lebowski, Danielle’s resolve to keep everyone at arm’s length starts to crumble.
Going in to OCD, the Dude, and Me, I was expecting a fun contemporary read with a smart and sarcastic main character who would go through some sort of life-altering experience that would leave me content and with a smile on my face. In some ways, I was correct, because that WAS how the book left me. But I was not expecting to feel as many emotions as I did while reading Danielle’s story, and especially wasn’t expecting that several of the passages in the book would bring tears to my eyes. Calling this book a fun or light contemporary read is doing it a pretty large disservice, because there is a lot going on here, even if it is delivered with a quick, sharp and self-deprecating wit that makes you laugh … right before it makes you cry.
Danielle is a very unique narrator. She suffers from extreme OCD, which she deals with through a lot of self-made coping mechanisms (not least of which is reorganizing her snow globe collection and trying on a myriad of hats). However, she also very clearly hates herself as well, putting down her looks, her weight, and the fact that she exists at all pretty much non-stop. The degree of her self-loathing is incredibly apparent to the reader, who experiences this book – and Danielle’s story – via journal entries (or me-moir entries), emails between her and her aunt (and later, Daniel), letters from a pen pal, and her writing assignments for her English class. (The letters to a made-up mental health committee about her social skills class were the ones that made me LOL the loudest, I have to admit!) Because Danielle suffers from OCD, each of these entries is meticulously titled so that the reader essentially gets the story of Danielle’s senior year in chronological order. My only complaint about this method of delivery was that the font used for Justine’s letters was a little hard for me to read, particularly since it’s a script font in a pretty small type size. Actually, that’s my ONLY complaint about this entire book, which tells you just how much of an impact this story had on my personally.
Everyone in existence has at least one thing about them that they don’t like, but for Danielle, the things she hates about herself far outnumber what she likes, which made this an extremely difficult book for me to read at times. I’ve read books that have characters who don’t like themselves, but I truly believe that Danielle took this hatred to a whole new level. Some of her entries were so incredibly poignant that I had to put the book down for a bit to sort of wrap my head around the emotions this fictional character was making me feel. I don’t understand mental illness, because I don’t suffer from any form of it, and while there are definitely things about myself that I’d want to change, nothing is to the extreme that Danielle feels. It doesn’t help that she is pretty much the butt of her classmates’ jokes, the social outcast, and the one who is easily left behind. Her entire state of mind is just so incredibly unhealthy, and every time that fact was driven home for the reader I just almost couldn’t deal with it. No one should have to experience what she goes through (and if I could have strangled Jacob, I definitely would have), and yet it’s precisely what teens deal with every single day in high school, which – as a teacher – made it even more difficult for me to handle. But her story was so phenomenal, so incredibly well-written, that I couldn’t look away from it and could only hope that she would eventually find some joy.
And I cannot write this review without at least mentioning Daniel. I don’t know what it is about these contemporary debut authors and their fabulous best friend characters, but we have another winner in Daniel. He’s quick-witted, surprisingly brash, over-the-top, and shocking, and yet I adored him from the very second he appeared on the page (and him telling Lisa off in class in defense of Danielle! Amazing). So much love for this stubborn, crude boy.
Honestly, I fear I am not doing this book the amount of justice I should with this review, so let me just say that I found this book incredibly difficult to read, but utterly worthwhile. Everything about it was just amazingly well done, from Danielle’s internal feelings, to the ways the people around her tried to help her cope with what she was going through. There were plenty of things to make you laugh, and plenty of others to make you cry. And any book that can put a reader through those extremes deserves the highest rating I can give it, and I do so now without any reservations whatsoever.