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Total Constant Order

Total Constant Order

4.2 5
by Crissa-Jean Chappell

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Fin can't stop counting. She's always heard a voice inside her head, ordering her to listen, but ever since she's moved to the Sunshine State and her parents split up, numbers thump like a metronome, rhythmically keeping things in control. When a new doctor introduces terms such as "clinical depression" and "OCD" and offers a prescription for medication, the


Fin can't stop counting. She's always heard a voice inside her head, ordering her to listen, but ever since she's moved to the Sunshine State and her parents split up, numbers thump like a metronome, rhythmically keeping things in control. When a new doctor introduces terms such as "clinical depression" and "OCD" and offers a prescription for medication, the chemical effects make Fin feel even more messed up. Until she meets Thayer, a doodling, rule-bending skater who buzzes to his own beat—and who might just understand Fin's hunger to belong, and her struggle for total constant order.

Crissa-Jean Chappell's candid and vividly told debut novel shares the story of a young teen's experience with obsessive compulsive disorder and her remarkable resolve to find her own inner strength.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

Chappell attempts to explore the foggy territory of obsessive-compulsive disorder and other little understood psychiatric problems in her debut novel, with mixed results. When high school freshman Fin's parents get divorced soon after the family's move from Vermont to Miami, Fin starts counting numbers in her head to calm herself. Eventually, however, her desire for "order" interferes with her ability to sleep and to concentrate in school, and Fin becomes increasingly concerned about her well-being. From the start, Chappell's portrayal of Fin's mental state is on target: made to clean a classroom as punishment for drawing on her desk, she feels compelled to spray the desktops twice, then wipe each three times, and count again, and then "something made me go around the room and touch all the corners. It was like being trapped in a box." Fin's virtually involuntary habits can be so repetitive and persistent that readers might feel as uncomfortable as if they were witnessing them in person. The author also delves into Fin's negative experience with Paxil. Again, Chappell accurately depicts Fin's longing to be "cured" as she consults as a therapist and fills a prescription over her mother's objections, and then despairs at the debilitating side effects. What seems to be missing from the story is Fin's heart. While OCD somewhat reflects the impact of her parents' divorce and the loss associated with the move, it can only go so far in conveying the whole of her personality and the range of her emotions. Ages 12-up. (Nov.)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
AGERANGE: Ages 15 to 18.

Fin craves the solace of numbers and ritual. Numbers are constantly pounding out rhythms in her head, her only safety net in a world marred by high school cliques and the end of her parents' marriage. And that is before Fin finds the medication that is supposed to offer her a break from the prison of her obsessive compulsive mind. But another form of salvation comes to her through a mysterious graffiti artist. How does he speak to her and understand the rhythms of her mind? Could it be that there is someone out there who suffers like she does? When she meets Thayer, she discovers that she is not alone. Thayer is someone who can understand her therapy visits and the ups and downs of being medicated. The question becomes, how will Fin find herself in a fog of Paxil, angst, and confusion? This must-have story is fresh. Chappell's first novel is a breakthrough. She manages to bring the audience into the mind of a teen suffering from OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder). Fin is a gritty character whose raw emotions speak to the reader. The author immerses her readers into Fin's mind and does not relent on the book's edgy voice. Reviewer: Robbie L. Flowers
April 2008 (Vol. 31, No. 1)

Children's Literature
School lessons plus life-altering changes can equal tutorials in unexpected subject areas. Frances (Fin) is launched into high school on the heels of a move from Vermont to Miami, Florida. Suddenly, her family undergoes a transformation, from nuclear to divorced mom and daughter, and Fin’s coping strategies go from neurotic to life-altering. Her mother takes her to see a therapist. Fin learns the definitions of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, Neurosis, and Serotonin, as well as the uses of Paxil, Ritalin, Wellbutrin, Zoloft, and Prozac. She also meets Thayer, who is on his own difficult journey of self-discovery, skirting the ever-changing rules of high school society on a skateboard of truancy, graffiti art and meds. The bridge to their adulthood has no free-pass options. The push-pull of needing total control against the freedom and calculated risk-taking that is essential to growth is eloquently described in this multi-layered story of adolescence gone awry. It is a tribute to the potential for personal salvation in each of us that Fin is helped as much by her friendship with Thayer as by any of her sessions with her therapist. The same is true for Thayer. This grimly realized story of teens struggling with OCD and ADD is gritty yet hopeful. We are reminded of the strengthening by-product of grief. Teen years filled with sadness can be incubators for wisdom. This book would be an important addition to a high school library or class on contemporary literature or adolescent sociology. Reviewer: Hazel Buys
School Library Journal

Gr 8 Up
With her parents' divorce coming not long after her family's move to Miami, ninth-grader Fin finds stability only through the rhythm of counting and the voices in her head that establish order. Finding herself isolated from the high school world around her, and disliked by fellow students who find her behavior strange, Fin finds solace when she meets Thayer, a boy with learning disabilities, whose world seems to be a lot like hers. With the help of free-spirited Thayer and a sympathetic therapist, the girl is able to make sense of her life. Chappell's first novel is a brave attempt to explore the world of a teenager ravaged by both obsessive-compulsive disorder and depression. Fin's struggle with both the drug Paxil and her troubled mother is a telling revelation of the recurrence of these diseases through generations. Likable characters and an intense pace make this a good purchase for most collections.
—Caryl SorianoCopyright 2006 Reed Business Information.

Kirkus Reviews
This study in Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder tracks four miserable months in the life of narrator Fin, a freshman at Miami-Dade High. Fin counts incessantly, performs small rituals, washes her hands over and over and sometimes gouges them with tweezers. A move from Vermont to Florida, followed by her parents' divorce, has intensified her compulsions. She has only one friend, a hyperactive stoner with problems of his own. Her mother, who has untreated OCD, mostly carps at Fin and cleans the house. Her father is barely present. Even Fin's therapist appears to be incompetent. She puts Fin on Paxil, fails to warn her about side effects and apparently doesn't consult with Fin's mother. The Paxil makes Fin much worse. Readers learn about OCD and something about its treatment. Those who enjoy steeping themselves in the bleakness of modern life will be in their element here among concrete McMansions and a grimy school with hostile students. While strong on atmosphere, this long novel has little plot and only a few moments of drama near the end. (Fiction. YA)

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
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13 Years

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Total Constant Order MSR

Chapter One


In ninth grade, I learned that the world is made of lava. My science teacher, Ms. Armstrong, illustrated this fact with candy corn.

"One, two, three," she counted, crunching each color. "Crust, mantle, core."

I munched the stale, waxy-tasting candy and gawked at the pictures in my earth science textbook. I thought about volcanoes belching, stars exploding. It's a wonder people didn't stumble around, knocking into one another.

I slouched in the front row, drawing stars on my desk. My nearsighted eyes had grown so bad, I was legally blind without contacts. The blackboard shimmered. I squeezed my pencil into my palm, leaving pointy marks that hurt and felt nice at the same time. I clamped my hands extra hard when Ms. Armstrong called my name.

"Fin, are you paying attention?" she asked.

She didn't know the truth: I paid attention to everything.

On the outside, I was quiet and still. Inside, I was churning. Nobody could guess what was happening inside my head. I was trying to control the beat of my wiggling desk, the spaces in the whispers around me, the rhythm of Ms. Armstrong's creaky footsteps. Numbers, with their constant order, would do the trick.

I counted backward: five, four, three, two, one. Every star I drew had an odd number of points, though for some reason this didn't bug me. It was like making a wish. When I finished, I leaned back in my chair, putting a punctuation mark at the end of my ritual.

The desk wobbled figure eights whenever I shifted my weight. You could tell it had been a living thing at one point. I tried guessing its age bycounting rings, the tree's fingerprints. Too many students had scratched their current love interests into its planetary whirls. I thought about all those names drilled throughout time. Together, they added up to nothing.

With my pen, I traced my thumb on the desk. After the right hand (which always came first), I would trace the left, making sure my fingers added up to ten. I could feel the thick stare of Ms. Armstrong, aimed in my direction.

"Young lady," Ms. Armstrong said. "All six feet on the floor."

This meant the chair's feet as well as my own. I thought of a rumor I'd heard about a boy who had leaned his chair back too far and fell. He had split his noggin, watermelon style, after plunging to the rock-hard floor of the classroom next door.

That's when she noticed my drawings.

"Who did this?" she asked.

I shrugged.

"Did you deface school property?"

I thought about that word, "de-face." The desk didn't have a face until I gave it one.

"What is this about?" Her eyes swept across my felt-tipped cosmos.

I didn't have a clue.

"Why?" she wanted to know.

Who? What? Why? I strung their letters together like a chain: three, four, three.

I had no answers. But I was smart enough to know that something was wrong with me. Until I figured out what it was, I'd keep quiet.

Ms. Armstrong clucked her tongue. She gave me a note to take home. I folded it five times and stuffed it in my book bag.

During lunch, I was left alone in the classroom. Ms. Armstrong made me wipe down all the desks with Windex—an activity that I converted into a new ritual. I would spray twice, wipe three times, and count again.

In the back were three floor-to-ceiling bulletin boards. Ms. Armstrong had covered them in a giant National Geographic map of the Everglades. Our desks were shaped in a double U to invite class discussion. We had only one skinny window. It was smothered with cactus plants, as if looking there were dangerous.

Outside the boys were playing tennis. Every so often, the ball whacked against the window, which Ms. Armstrong had covered with two strips of duct tape. A giant X. My teacher was a worrier too. She always wore a hat to shield off cancerous solar rays. The class made bets on when she'd take it off. She never took it off.

Whack, whack. One, two. I got up and peeked out the window. For some reason, their idea of tennis involved a lot of running around the court. To them, it was baseball with rackets.

I flicked the light switch a couple times. Something made me go around the room and touch all the corners. It was like being trapped in a box. The only way I could climb out was through counting. I eased myself into Ms. Armstrong's chair, swiveling back and forth . . . one, two . . . one, two . . . making windshield-wiper noises. I was listening hard to the noise in my head.

On her desk I found a photo of her middle-age son puffing on a trombone. Ms. Armstrong said he'd performed for the Queen of England. This didn't mean much to our country. Forever he'd blow a note that nobody could hear. Forever was a long time. Infinity. The only number whose size and shape I couldn't imagine.

In back of the picture frame were two bolts. I touched them once, twice, then unscrewed them. The photo fluttered out. I noticed that one of the corners was torn, as if a giant roach had taken a bite out of it. I considered ripping the other corner, just to make it even. The thought grabbed hold and wouldn't let go. I felt that familiar pressure building inside me. Before I realized it, my fingers were busy shredding. But the bottom half needed to match, so I tore it, too. When I tried to stuff it back inside the frame, it no longer fit, so I tore the entire thing to bits.

I tucked the empty frame in Ms. Armstrong's drawer. I opened my desk and dumped the shreds inside. As I slammed it shut, I noticed faint outlines of . . .

Total Constant Order MSR. Copyright (c) by Crissa-Jean Chappell . Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Meet the Author

Crissa-Jean Chappell's reviews, short stories, and poems have appeared in many magazines. A professor of creative writing, she lives in Miami, Florida, where she often looks for manatees. This is her first novel.

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Total Constant Order 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 5 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
You guys are not landon and bradin. WHY DID YOU TOUCH THIS?
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Theatriics More than 1 year ago
Total Constant Order is my FAVORITE teen fiction book. This deals with teen issues & OCD. When things were also stirring up between Thayer & Fin, it just made me want to read more! When i finished this book I went all over the internet to check if Crissa-Jean Chappell had made a sequel or was going to make a sequel. Unfortunatley she didnt... I HIGHLY RECCOMEND THIS BOOK!
TeensReadToo More than 1 year ago
Rhythm is the pulse of life. Everything has rhythm. The waves in the ocean, cars buzzing down the highway, the drip of the rain after a spring shower, the pencil scraping across our paper, even our own pulse in our ears, late at night when all should be quiet.

Fin doesn't know quiet. For her, the rhythm has become more than a beat. It's an obsession. It's good luck to turn a light on three times -- the wrong number could be deadly. The roar of numbers in her head blocks the outside chaos. They offer comfort. Stability. She taps her seat three times. Someone touches her shoulder. She touches the opposite one. It's about keeping life in balance. Control.

Control is something Fin lost when her parents uttered those devastating words, "...this doesn't mean we're abandoning you or that we don't love you anymore." The D-word. Moving from a place she loves, to a place she doesn't. Her mother copes by excessive cleaning. Fin copes by counting.

Soon, Fin's mother has her visiting Dr. Calaban. Fin meets Thayer, who is also being treated by Dr. Calaban, but for ADD. Fin discovers there's a name for what she's feeling: OCD, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. She wonders if it's hereditary as her mother rewashes the jeep Fin's just finished washing. With the help of Thayer and Dr. Calaban, Fin rediscovers her love of something she'd lost along the way, something that will help calm the need for total constant order.

TOTAL CONSTANT ORDER is a riveting first novel by debut author Crissa-Jean Chappell. I was sad to end the book because I wanted to spend more time with the characters. I kept trying to slow down as I read, to linger and enjoy, but it was impossible. Each chapter drove me forward to the next and the next until the final page. The characters were fresh and real. I know you'll enjoy them as much as I did!
Guest More than 1 year ago
The high praise given this book by other authors and displayed prominently on the jacket belies some of the concerns I had about its content. Frances Nash, commonly known as Fin, has a lot on her mind. A move from the comfortable feel of Vermont to Miami, Florida is enough culture shock to rock her world, but add to that her parents¿ separation and father¿s new girlfriend, and Fin¿s emotional world tilts, shifts, in uncontrollable ways. Told in Fin¿s voice, we meet her new psychiatrist, Dr. Calaban, who prescribes Paxil for depression. We are led through her encounter with Ms. Armstrong, a science teacher at her high school, Thayer Pinsky, a well-meaning manatee-loving thug who shares the pot stash with his mother and self-medicates pretty freely, and Yara, Fin¿s father¿s new love interest who is probably closer to Fin¿s age than her father¿s. While the consequences of poor life decisions that are made by both Fin and Thayer are somewhat realistically glossed over, we don¿t have the benefit of looking at their lives years down the road when the true weight of those decisions will be felt. The relationship between Fin and her mother, who also suffers from OCD, and some of the explanation of the feelings is amazingly drawn, the end, where Fin discovers she can live happily ever after and control her OCD without medication, is, perhaps a little simplistic. Will students with OCD relate? I think they probably will. Will other students be fascinated by a life that they don¿t currently understand? Definitely. The writing is such that it is a sad, but interesting trip. Does this story offer false hope? At the risk of sounding pessimistic, I think only a real doctor is qualified to answer that.