A Review of OCD Love Story by Corey Ann Haydu
Bea knows she’s a bit messed up—ever since “the incident” last year, she’s been seeing a therapist—but she thinks she’s got things pretty much under control. Heck, she even met a boy at a school dance recently! But now Dr. Pat wants her to join a therapy group for teens with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. As Bea starts a relationship with Beck her own OCD begins to spiral out of control.
OCD Love Story is contemporary realism, but because we see the world through Bea’s eyes, we see it through the lens of her obsessions and compulsions. Bea has never thought of her behaviors in terms of OCD. Sure, she gets really fixated on things sometimes—her ex-boyfriend, a story about a teen’s death, sharp things—but she thinks of it as one of her many quirks, like the scrapbooks where she collects news reports of murders, or the detailed notes she takes about people. And, ok, maybe it is a lot harder to drive lately, since she can’t go faster than 30 miles an hour and has to circle back multiple times to make absolutely sure she hasn’t hit anyone, but she’s just being careful, right? Responsible.
This is Bea’s daily life, but when Dr. Pat gives her a pamphlet—and, thus, a diagnosis—of OCD, Bea suddenly has a whole new vocabulary to describe her behaviors. And she doesn’t like it one bit. Because now she’s exactly what she’s never wanted to be: crazy. Too crazy to be loved, perhaps, and definitely too crazy for her best friend, Lisha, who’s been her rock forever.
When she joins therapy group, she thinks she doesn’t belong. Come on: these people pull their hair out and pick at their faces and tap and wash their hands; her obsessions are just intense and her compulsions charming. Right? But, little by little, Bea’s obsession with two of Dr. Pat’s other patients (Austin and Sylvia, whose lives seem glamorous and perfect) amplifies and she finds her thoughts and behaviors spiraling dangerously out of her control. It’s like being in group with these people is making her crazier!
what were this book’s intentions? does it live up to them?
Maybe it was the color palette of the cover, or maybe the phrase “love story” in the title, but I started OCD Love Story expecting a sweet romance (and, thus, wasn’t particularly excited about it). To my delight, this is not the case. First-time novelist Corey Ann Haydu delivers a harrowing portrait of the effects of OCD on Bea’s life.
I loathe with a passion the kind of books and movies where the entire drama derives from the protagonist making a torturous series of mistakes and obviously terrible choices (Meet the Parents! et al). OCD Love Story might seem, at first, to follow a similar pattern: a girl acts in ways that the reader can tell are terrible and it torments us. To the contrary, Haydu crafts a story where I both felt subject to the whims of Bea’s compulsions but was also able to experience the micro-drama of her attempts to resist them and her frustration when she’s unable to do so. As a result, I felt exhausted right along with Bea when she’s in the grip of a compulsion, but was so intrigued by their content that I felt compelled too!
Bea’s relationship with Beck was particularly interesting to me—and a smart conceit on Haydu’s part. Beck’s obsessions—with the number eight—and compulsions—working out, hand-washing—are, on the surface, the opposite of Bea, who is a bit sloppy and frazzled. But both of them are, at root, concerned about safety. Bea is convinced that she is dangerous and will hurt someone; Beck is convinced that if he can get strong enough perhaps he can retroactively save someone he’s lost. The result of his compulsions is that Beck has a really hulked-out upper body that seems at odds with his sad eyes and sweet, tentative personality. But for Bea, his physical strength makes him appealing precisely because he seems like someone she won’t be able to harm as easily. Of course, the story gives the lie to this correlation between physical and emotional invulnerability, and learning this is part of Bea’s journey.
Their relationship raises really interesting questions about ideas of masculinity and femininity that are at the center of OCD Love Story and were, I thought, the most accomplished (although subtle) element of the novel. Most novels about love and relationships explore the ways that we negotiate among our solitary selves and who we become in relationships. OCD Love Story portrays people who sometimes have very little choice but to show things about themselves that other characters might keep hidden. Bea, for one, has a compulsion to tell the truth, which isn’t terribly conducive to a smooth first date; things like telling Beck that his shirt is too tight and confessing that her meds give her wicked night sweats. How Bea navigates the shark-infested waters of the truth—does she stand by it, apologize for it, act like it’s normal, etc.?—is another particularly interesting element of OCD Love Story. The psychology behind Bea and Beck’s obsessions and compulsions is deftly handled and, while the ending is bit abrupt, Bea’s insights at the climax ring very true.
All in all, Haydu writes a dramatic story about OCD rather than allowing the inherent drama of OCD determine the story. I was pleasantly surprised!
procured from: I received an ARC of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Corey Ann Haydu’s OCD Love Story is available now.