Kissing Doorknobs

Kissing Doorknobs

4.6 46
by Terry Spencer Hesser
     
 

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During her preschool years, Tara Sullivan lived in terror that something bad would happen to her mother while they were apart. In grade school, she panicked during the practice fire drills. Practice for what?, Tara asked. For the upcoming disaster that was bound to happen?

Then, at the age of 11, it happened. Tara heard the phrase that changed her life: See more details below

Overview

During her preschool years, Tara Sullivan lived in terror that something bad would happen to her mother while they were apart. In grade school, she panicked during the practice fire drills. Practice for what?, Tara asked. For the upcoming disaster that was bound to happen?

Then, at the age of 11, it happened. Tara heard the phrase that changed her life: Step on a crack, break your mother's back. Before Tara knew it, she was counting every crack in the sidewalk. Over time, Tara's "quirks" grew and developed: arranging her meals on plates, nonstop prayer rituals, until she developed a new ritual wherin she kissed her fingers and touched doorknobs....


From the Paperback edition.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Hesser's unusually polished debut novel brings a singularly compassionate wit to a singularly painful topic. Tara Sullivan does not know how or why she lost "possession" of her thoughts, but she can trace her terrible problem to her 11th year, when the rhyme "Step on a crack, break your mother's back!" begins to run insistently and ceaselessly through her head. Propelled by a series of irrational fears, Tara counts sidewalk cracks on her way to school and then enacts other equally bizarre rituals (among them, praying aloud when anyone swears; kissing her fingers after touching the doorknob). Her strange behavior puzzles neighbors, alienates her friends and drives her mother into nearly murderous rages. Through Tara's first-person narrative, Hesser compellingly expresses both the anguish and the dark humor of the heroine's obsessive-compulsive disorder (identified near the end of the book, when she begins therapy). At times descriptions of her entrapment are so vivid and intense that readers may need to come up for air. But the lively characterizations (especially of Tara's closest friends and pugilistic younger sister) prevent the protagonist's psychological confinement from becoming claustrophobic to readers. Hesser's thoroughly credible narrative ("I have experienced some of the obsessions and compulsions I have written about," Hesser states in her acknowledgments), and fascinating story promote both an intellectual and emotional understanding of a treatable disease. Ages 12-up. (May)
VOYA - Nancy Thackaberry
Tara, age ten, senses something is wrong when "tyrants" in her mind order her to count the cracks in the sidewalk-all 495 of them-on her way to school each day. Although her anxieties begin at school age, Tara is not properly diagnosed with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) until age fifteen. During those early teen years Tara's OCD becomes more powerful and torments her loved ones as her "spacey" personality painfully cuts her friends out of her life. Her younger sister fist fights to defend Tara and release her own frustrations. Tara's Irish Catholic father escapes his feeling of uselessness at home by volunteering at the American Legion, hoping Tara's "phase" will pass, while her mother turns to alcohol and violence. Tara clings to her catechism lessons to help her overcome her fears. The church gives no solace, but she continues the rituals of praying and crossing herself constantly. In one disturbing yet poignant scene at an amusement park, Tara's mother slaps her every time she crosses herself or prays for her mother's "sins." Tara creates her own ritual of kissing her fingers and turning the front doorknob of her home thirty-three times before she can feel safe enough to venture outside. Once Tara's OCD is diagnosed, she struggles toward some normalcy. This book has the elements of a horror story as the reader watches Tara's family being tormented by unseen demons. A few outdated terms from the 1970s are used but the grace and power of this novel flow like a classic ballet. VOYA Codes: 5Q 3P J S (Hard to imagine it being any better written, Will appeal with pushing, Junior High-defined as grades 7 to 9 and Senior High-defined as grades 10 to 12).
Children's Literature - Alexandria LaFaye
Tara has odd quirks she can't control. She must count the cracks in the sidewalk, kiss her front door knob before exiting, and pray whenever someone sins in her presence. Her parents hope these are part of a phase. Her friends tolerate the oddities and Tara feels enslaved by them. It isn't until a teacher correctly identifies Tara's illness as obsessive-compulsive disorder that the young girl is able to begin to retake control of her life. This novel takes a realistic and intense look at a baffling illness. The emotional complexity of the novel is admirable, as is the author's decision to portray Tara's recovery as a long, arduous process.
School Library Journal
Gr 6 UpIn this excellent, absorbing first novel, Hesser introduces readers to Obsessive Compulsive Disorder through the experiences of 11-year-old Tara. The girl suddenly feels compelled to follow strange, meaningless rituals to deal with the anxieties that have plagued her all her life. To protect her mother from a broken back, she must not only avoid stepping on sidewalk cracks but also count them endlessly. To ensure her parents' safe return after a night out, she must pronounce a set of prayers perfectly five times, stand directly in front of two different clocks and look at the time, turn the knob of the front door with equal pressure on each finger, and then stand in the exact center of the road and look both ways twice. Each psychiatrist she sees has a different, incorrect diagnosis. Tara's behavior strains her friendships, and her family begins to shatter, creating more anxiety. Finally, a concerned teacher identifies a "doorknob kissing" ritual as a symptom of OCD and steers her toward help. The book does not end with an instant or perfect cure, but Tara at 14 does have reason to hope for a life free from the "tyrants in her head." Hesser's deft treatment turns this account of an unusual condition into an honest, fresh, and multilayered story to which readers will instantly relate. The author's treatment of the subject is thorough and thoughtful but not heavy-handed. The prose is forthright, economical, and peppered with wry humor, making this a great pick for reluctant readers.July Siebecker, Hubbard Memorial Library, MA
Kirkus Reviews
With a trenchant portrait of Tara Sullivan from ages 11þ14, Hesser's first novel puts obsessive-compulsive disorder under the microscope. Troubled Tara is preoccupied with orderliness and impending disaster, and dedicates her attention to painstakingly trivial rules and rituals. She counts cracks in every sidewalk, worries that her mother's back will indeed be broken, lines up grains of rice on her plate, prays every time she hears a swear word, and "kisses" doorknobs in a ritual of her own invention. Her devotion to these activities leads to the exclusion of friends and the alienation of family. Incredibly, her parents allow her condition to drag on, undiagnosed, for years; when she does come under scrutiny, the various diagnoses are Attention Deficit Disorder, immaturity, borderline anorexia, anger issues. Tara's condition isn't easily conveyed: Readers may tire of her depressive, self-deprecating immersion in disorder, no matter how natural her perspective is to her illness: "In a fetal position, I rocked myself like a sad baby in a cold white crib. I had no language to describe my pain. I had no company in my pain. I just had pain. Isolating, solitary pain. And loneliness. And humiliation." Understandably self-absorbed, Tara lapses into stilted, self-conscious moments that distance readers rather than elicit their compassion, e.g., "After a few months, I got over my separation anxiety." Only a serendipitous meeting with fellow sufferer Sam promises a rescue for Tara in an otherwise onerous story. (Fiction. 13-15)

From the Publisher
The first novel for young adults that addresses Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). With approximately 1.5 million adolescents in the U.S affected, OCD is a pertinent issue to young readers. This story not only explores the confusion and fear experienced by 14-year-old Tara, but the anxiety and agony parents face when a child is suffering from OCD.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780307477743
Publisher:
Random House Children's Books
Publication date:
03/10/2010
Sold by:
Random House
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
160
Sales rank:
213,631
File size:
2 MB
Age Range:
12 - 17 Years

Read an Excerpt

Step on a crack, break your mother's back! The first time I heard that stupid rhyme was when I was eleven years old and still in possession of my own thoughts.

At first I thought the rhyme was stupid.  Step on a crack, break your mother's back! When I couldn't get it out of my head, I thought it was annoying.  Step on a crack, break your mother's back! Finally I thought it was scary.  But no matter what I thought about it, I couldn't stop thinking it.  Actually, it was more as if I couldn't stop hearing it in my head over and over again.

I heard it while I was brushing my teeth,
Step on a crack, break your mother's back!
eating dinner,
Step on a crack, break your mother's back!
doing my homework,
Step on a crack, break your mother's back!
having a conversation,
Step on a crack, break your mother's back!
and falling asleep.

It was like listening to the sound track of a movie that I wasn't watching.  A weird time-release audio torment stuck on Replay in my brain.  Even now, I'm fourteen years old and just thinking about it makes me tap it with my feet.  Step on a crack, break your mother's back!  Nine syllables.  Uneven.  I hate that.

From the Paperback edition.

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