Staff Review: OCDaniel by Wesley King

I’ve been exposed to children and middle-grade books on a regular basis for many years, but haven’t actually picked many up and read them. I’d heard of Wesley King’s “OCDaniel” for some time now, and finally decided to read it. As a 30-something year old, I can say that this book is fantastic, no matter your age! While it resides in the children’s section of TBPL, it is something that would be best suited for older children (or middle-grade) and up. The story focuses on 13 year old Daniel and his daily struggles, including girls, the football team, and his undiagnosed OCD.

Daniel Leigh is a 13 year old boy who, soon into the novel, tells the reader that he sometimes experiences Zaps – an intense feeling of dread over doing something wrong. It may be stepping off a carpet incorrectly, writing a “bad” number down (which explains his lacking math grades) or other seemingly insignificant things that may happen throughout the day. Daniel tells himself that the Zaps are not normal, but he has no idea how to stop them. He has never told anyone in his life about them, or the Routine he does every night before bed, sometimes taking him 3 hours to complete. As Daniel tells us, the Routine sounds simple enough – turn on the bathroom light, brush teeth, turn off the light and walk to bed. Unfortunately for Daniel, it isn’t that simple, as he often gets Zapped and needs to start the Routine over. He often goes to sleep crying and in pain, gums bleeding and feet aching.

Since Daniel has not told anyone about these things he does, and has assumed he is the only one to do these things and therefore has never looked it up, Daniel is unaware he is suffering from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, or OCD. Daniel suffers in silence every day, hiding his condition from his parents, friends, teachers and siblings. The only person who has ever noticed Daniel is hiding something is Sara, a girl at Daniel’s school the other students have harshly nicknamed “Psycho Sara”. Sara suffers from bipolar disorder, anxiety disorder, schizophrenia and depression. She talks to almost no one, but one day begins speaking to Daniel. She asks him for his help – she believes her father has been murdered by her mother’s new boyfriend, and she wants Daniel’s help to prove it.

The mystery element in this book caught me off guard – I knew very little going in and therefore wasn’t aware of this part of the story. I loved this element of the novel and was excitedly following along with Sara and Daniel as they tried to find evidence to help Sara’s case. Sara feels a kinship with Daniel as she is aware he is suffering from a disorder that may be related to hers. They focus on their investigation, but also help each other through their struggles with their conditions. The truth about Sara’s father is heavy, as are many other elements in the novel, but King pairs the heavy with the lighthearted and sometimes sarcastic voice of a 13 year old so well, it doesn’t weigh down the novel. 

Wesley King’s novel is semi-autobiographical. He suffers from OCD and did not know his compulsions and thoughts were an actual disorder until he was 16. He, like Daniel, told no one about his routines and thoughts and suffered in silence for years. Daniel and Sara both struggle throughout the book with the notion of being “normal”, and King does an amazing job of reminding the reader that everyone has something that they are working through in some way. Daniel’s friend Max has an absent father he continuously tries to please, Sara’s mother struggles with her family relationships, and Daniel’s crush Raya can get defensive about her culture when she thinks it is being mocked. This novel is fantastic for so many reasons, which probably explains why it has won countless awards over the years. “OCDaniel” is a book that can change a person’s life – to remind them they are not alone, and that talking and sharing one’s experiences can be life saving. If you’re in the mood for a heartfelt novel with mystery, intrigue and wonderful characters, pick up Wesley King’s OCDaniel today! There is also a prequel, Sara and the Search for Normal where readers can learn more about Sara’s life before Daniel. If you enjoyed “OCDaniel”, Sara’s story will charm you too!