August 15, 2013

The Unlikely Hero of Room 13B

by Teresa Toten
Doubleday Canada/Random House of Canada
255 pp.
Ages 14+
For release August 27, 2013

When 16-year-old Robyn Plummer joins Dr. Chuck Mutinda's young adult OCD group, fifteen-year-old Adam Ross finds his motivation to get better and even grow taller. He still has deal with his compulsion to clear those triggers that bother him, like thresholds and even numbers, but when the group members are encouraged to take on superhero alter egos, he links himself to her by choosing Batman to her Robin.  

In fact, Adam becomes Robyn's unofficial mentor in all things Catholic after following her to the cemetery where she visits her mom's grave.  Seems Robyn is interested in pursuing the ingrained rituals such as crossing oneself and kneeling, hoping it will help her deal with her mother's death and her own OCD.  But Adam and Robyn's relationship starts to include the other members of their OCD group when a field trip to his parish is undertaken.  Although Chuck is clear that religion is not a panacea for OCD, the other group members, including the intense Thor, accompany them and learn about the font, the lighting of candles and kneeling in prayer, even if they all fall to their knees when Father Rick introduces himself.

While he continues to do all he can to help Robyn, obviously falling in love with her, Adam is very reluctant to speak in group or even in his one-on-one sessions with Chuck of those issues which are overwhelming him.  His father had left to marry another woman, Brenda, with whom he now has another son, Wendell (affectionately known as Sweetie), a four-year-old whom Adam adores.  Likewise, Sweetie has a strong attachment to Adam who is regularly summoned to calm or reassure or put his little brother to sleep.  In fact, Adam wonders if he is making Sweetie crazy, although his mother claims that he is not.  A highly-competent nursing supervisor, Carmella Ross, has her own issues, particularly hoarding and, more recently, receiving nasty letters that call her vile names and instruct her to kill herself for Adam's sake. But his mom has declared that if he tells anyone that it will be a betrayal to her.

So he lies to Chuck and others about the letters and even the growing severity of his issues with thresholds. But, as Chuck tells him and he later tells Robyn, when she reveals her own secrets, "Everybody lies."(pg. 146)  However, as he and Robyn become closer, he confides in her about his mom and the letters, which lightens his burden, until he gets home again.

Bouncing back and forth between trying to get better and following Chuck's program and feeling that Robyn is getting better and he is not, Adam begins to feel like an impostor, hardly a superhero of Room 13B. But, revealing what he needs, exposing some lies, and accepting that leaving is a difficult but necessary step in growing up, Adam can finally see himself as the reluctant hero that his family, his friends and Robyn know him to be.

If you forget the OCD, temporarily, you see that Teresa Toten has created a good kid in Adam.  He tries to see the best in everyone and help where he can. He may vascillate between whether it is or isn't or whether he should or shouldn't, but don't we all when trying to make the best of decisions?  With his OCD, Adam would be justified in having great difficulty in determining the correct course of action.  But, he still goes when Sweetie needs him, even in the middle of the night or during the school day.  He respects his mother's wishes.  He even suggests that climbing the stairs to their meeting room in Room 13B would be excellent exercise when he realizes that one group member with claustrophobia was unable to enter the elevator.

While Adam tells himself and others that everybody lies, the lies are used to add layering to The Unlikely Hero of Room 13B.  Everyone has fears, issues, anxieties and sensitivities that sometimes need to be hidden.  But what transforms the lies into a story is the choices of from whom these lies are hidden–yourself or others–and for what purpose.  Teresa Toten uses her characters' lies to provide greater depth and unexpected twists to her storyline, as well as demonstrate that heroics are everyday occurrences, not the domain of superheroes.  Some days it's speaking aloud in a group, or taking a chance and going for it, or breaking your heart to do what's right that requires courage.  By that explanation, Adam Ross, 15, is truly The Unlikely Hero of Room 13B.

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Teresa Toten will be a guest author at First Calgary Financial Book Rapport, part of Calgary's WordFest in October, and will be presenting at the Banff Centre on Saturday October 19. 

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