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Total Constant Order: Crissa-Jean Chappell

As long as I'm writing about books related to mental illness (see my recent review of The Phoenix Dance), in honor of mental health month, it seems like a good time to review Total Constant Order by Crissa-Jean Chappell. Although the book won't be released until late October, it's been getting lots of buzz, and I've seen several other reviews already. Total Constant Order is the story of four months in the life of a girl named Fin who suffers from obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and depression.

Ninth grader Fin hears a voice in her head, telling her to do things. Ever since her parents' divorce, the voice has become more insistent. The only thing that tames it is numbers. Fin counts everything, relishing the order that comes from numbers. Eventually, as her ability to cope with everyday life becomes more and more frayed, she ends up seeing a doctor, and being put on Paxil. She also meets a boy, Thayer, who is a bit of kindred spirit, a breaker of rules, sufferer of ADD, and someone who takes seeing a psychiatrist in stride. Total Constant Order is about coming of age, coming to terms with mental disorders, coping with a life-altering medication, and building newer, more adult relationships with parents and step-parents.

Total Constant Order is told in the first person, from Fin's unique, slightly wry voice. Here is an example, one of many, illustrating the workings of her mind.

The space in my head needed filling, so I started cramming it with numbers. Safe, solid numbers, like fives and tens, that stood on their own, no explanation required. Words just cluttered my thoughts. The beach kept time with my inner metronome, a sound that went on and on, whether I was there to hear it or not. (Chapter "Guinea Pig Girl)

I didn't identify with Fin all that well, personally, but my favorite scene in the book is the one in which Fin talks with her mother about her own OCD, and learns that her mother and grandmother each struggled with similar issues. What I like is the way even in an intense conversation, Fin can't resist little sarcastic asides to herself in almost every sentence, like "Even as a baby I was an insomniac" and "For someone obsessed with cleaning, I found it strange that she saved everything."

Although it's a fairly quick read, this isn't a book for young kids. Thayer self-medicates his ADD with recreational drugs, and exhibits other self-destructive behavior. Thayer and Fin both experiment with writing graffiti and cutting class. They aren't bad kids, but their problems, and the medications that they take to cope with their problems, make it difficult for them to sit still and behave in school. I think that teens who have struggled with mental and behavioral issues, especially those who have turned to medications like Paxil and Ritalin, will find this book intriguing. 

Book: Total Constant Order
Author: Crissa-Jean Chappell. See also Crissa's journal.
Publisher: HarperTeen
Original Publication Date: October 23, 2007
Pages: 288
Age Range: 13 and up
Source of Book: ARC from the author.
Other Blog Reviews: Outside of a Cat, Booktopia, Bildungsroman, and Bri Meets Books. See also interviews of Crissa-Jean Chappell at wordswimmer and Bildungsroman.

© 2009 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.