I’ve just finished reading a novel with a strange and intriguing title, OCD Love Story by Corey Ann Haydu. In a strange twist on my usual book selection techniques which hardly anyone reading this post is likely to believe, I was drawn to the book not because of the words “Love Story” on the cover, but because of the three letters that preceded it.
I know for a fact that I suffer from anxiety and my own form of obsessive compulsive disorder. Don’t ask me how I know this for sure – just know that my high school and university years were not quite as easy as I probably make them seem now that they’re done. So, in light of my personal experiences, I was interested in this novel because I had no idea how OCD would be portrayed. I basically thought that the title was more of an exaggeration than anything – the cover is so flashy and happy, so yellow and hot pink, that I assumed that the use of OCD in the title was a joke of some kind…like, aren’t teenage girls who have crushes on hot boys so obsessive?! It turns out that the story is about a girl, Bea, who finds herself stalking people…but not because she’s a teenager and not because she’s infatuated…and so the novel is much more realistic and troubling and much less funny than I thought it would be.
How often do we hear people use the term OCD to incorrectly define or label themselves? To be honest, I probably just did that…maybe I’m not obsessive compulsive at all. I know from reading Haydu’s novel that anxiety disorder and OCD exist on a broad spectrum, and the fears and insecurities I suffer from, that no logic or reason can explain or combat, are on a different part of the spectrum than I would’ve previously imagined. Haydu’s novel makes clear that individuals, like Bea and her fictional boyfriend Beck, who actually suffer from OCD struggle violently; their compulsions are all-consuming and often frightening; their concerns are constant and extremely difficult to eradicate. I don’t think I’ve ever read anything quite like this novel: I can’t say I loved it because I didn’t find myself drawn wholeheartedly, blindly or uncritically in by the narrative voice, but I appreciated the subject matter, I respected Haydu’s compassionate and detailed representation of OCD, and I learned a great deal about an illness that I had formerly thought I understood perfectly.
There is a love story buried deep within the pages of the novel, but for once, I didn’t care too much what happened to the main character romantically. I wanted Bea to get well; I wanted her to come out the other side of the novel a changed young woman who could breathe easily and live her life fully. I wanted everything all neat and tidy and resolved at the end of the story. But, that conclusion was probably never in the cards: the novel seems to re-enact OCD in the sense that it urges the reader to desire cohesion, order and organization at its end, only to leave threads loose and untidy. The novel suggests that battling OCD is an ongoing exercise and that something that is so much a part of an individual’s life and so deeply rooted in their personality and identity cannot be so easily explained away. I finished the novel without feeling settled…but I did experience some optimism from the positive turn that Bea and her friends seemed to have taken.
I liked the novel and found it interesting, but I don’t know that I like the manner in which it portrays itself sitting on a shelf in the prospective reader’s local bookstore. The cover is too bright and the title itself seems too flippant, too nonchalant. I can’t say that I always scrutinize or analyze the cover design of the novels I read: but I think that, naturally, most readers probably pick up books in bookstores because they initially look appealing and because something about the cover attracts them. Haydu’s novel is definitely proof that one should never, ever judge a book by its cover, however! Maybe that was Haydu’s strategy though? I want to believe that she hoped to subvert clichés and encourage young adults to delve into her text, where the real work of deconstructing misconceptions about OCD occurs. Perhaps the cover design is a form of literary trickery and deception aimed at a greater cause? In any case, the novel is worth reading because it is informative – I felt that I connected more to the idea of OCD than to any of the specific characters or their backgrounds, but the plot did of course make such a sensitive, difficult topic very accessible and more descriptive rather than fact heavy or overwhelming.
One quote in particular stuck to me after finishing the novel, and I’ll conclude this post with it:
“It’s like, I’m scared and there’re a lot of ugly things, but I’d rather be shipwrecked on this lovely island than safe in a sad, gray cell. You know?”
I think everyone knows, Bea…and I think we’d all agree. If anything, OCD Love Story encourages hope in even the most dark and dismal circumstances.
And we can all use a little reminder that things aren’t always as bad as they could be or as they seem,
Girl with a Green Heart