Book Review: OCDaniel by Welsey King

Cover of OCDaniel. Blue background with numbers, some crossed out with the letters OCD vertically-placed, Daniel spelled out acrostic style. Author Wesley King's name at the bottom right. There is a Q-Tip with yellow scribbles representing hair in the middle of the O.

Daniel has OCD…except he doesn’t know. He just knows about the “zaps” and other sensations he feels that compel him to flicker the lights or count his steps. He also knows he doesn’t want to be seen as anything other than a normal kid, and attempts to distance himself from anything that could make him look weird. That means no matter what, he never tells his family or his friends what he’s really thinking. That’s one of several conflicts in Wesley King’s OCDaniel, a middle grade novel about a quirky kid with a bunch of normal kid problems and a big secret.

This isn’t unusual for someone with OCD. Despite showing OCD traits as a child, it wasn’t until my 20’s until I got a firm diagnosis of OCD, similar to King’s own story he includes at the end of the book. Many people with OCD hide their symptoms, which is major reason why this book is so special.

But don’t be fooled into thinking King’s book is only about OCD! Daniel’s story is interwoven with the pressures of being the water boy on his school’s football team, figuring out girls, and a mysterious letter he receives from a “Fellow Star Child”. It’s also funny and charming, the title cover’s Q-Tip a nod to how Daniel is described by his coach.

For those looking for an empathetic and adventurous middle grade novel, OCDaniel should be on your to-read list. More ahead, but beware: spoilers are in the next section!

Spoilers Ahead

Daniel’s perception of normal is challenged when he receives a note from a “Fellow Star Child”, who turns out to be the girl others at his school call “Psycho Sara”. Sara has anxiety and schizophrenia and barely talks, often seen alone or with a TA. But Sara recognizes that Daniel is different. Once Daniel figures out the author of the note is Sara, she asks him to help her find out why her father disappeared. Daniel ends up being one of the only people she talks to, recognizing his OCD early in the novel. She doesn’t tell him it’s OCD until much later, finally giving Daniel answers about his quirks.

Daniel also grapples with the relief of knowing that OCD is a condition shared by many and the stigma of being seen as “crazy”. His friendship with Sara challenges his perception of normalcy and the value of being himself. At the same time, Daniel juggles being temporarily promoted to kicker on the football team, his crush on Raya Singh (and maybe even Sara), writing his own book, and investigating the alleged murder of Sara’s father at the hands of her mother’s boyfriend.

His friendship with Sara helps him to embrace his true personality, someone who loves writing and talking about global politics. Daniel realizes he doesn’t need to “play it cool” anymore.

Daniel also helps Sara discover what her mother and her boyfriend have been hiding from her: her father died from an overdose, partially spurred on by his own mental illness that is similar to Sara’s.

Despite the heavy topics, King writes a very real depiction of two characters struggling with their own battles and embracing their strengths at once. The mystery and romance storylines also keeps readers engaged up until the very end, when Daniel embraces his new nickname: OCDaniel.

Further Reading

In 2020, a prequel about Sara called Sara and the Search for Normal was published.

OCDaniel is one of several books included in my “Books About OCD Written by Authors with OCD” blog post. Look there for more suggestions of what to read next.

Books About OCD Written by Authors with OCD

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Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) affects 1.2% of the U.S. population and around 2% globally. Many people associate OCD with being organized and excessive cleanliness. In reality, OCD is categorized by obsessive thoughts and behaviors that can manifest in many different ways. For me, I have on on-and-off again fear of death and compulsions related to avoiding death. (I talk a lot about this in my essay in The Ear.) For others, this could mean unplugging every device from an outlet before leaving the house to prevent it from burning down.

No matter what it looks like, listening to the experiences of people with OCD is essential for understanding just how difficult the condition can be. Below is a growing list of books written by authors with OCD about OCD. The latest version of this blog was updated in June of 2022.

Nonfiction and Memoir

The MAn Who Couldn’t Stop by David Adam

Part memoir, part scientific investigation, Adam uses his own experiences with OCD (over 20 years of it) and stories from around the world, Adam bravely explores the darkest parts of our mind and questions what exactly defines mental illness.

Under My Bed and Other Essays by Jodi Keisner

While not explicitly about OCD, Keisner’s essay collection addresses the roots of women’s fears, starting with her own ritualistic behaviors. The essays are a combo of both literary and experimental pieces for a unique reading experience. You can preorder the paperback version now through the University of Nebraska Press website.

Because We Are Bad: OCD and a Girl Lost in Thought By Lily Bailey

A lyrical memoir on Bailey’s experiences throughout childhood with OCD. Convinced from a young age she was capable of murdering others with “incorrect” thoughts and excessive, repetitive routines, the memoir progresses into a story of persistence and recovery as Bailey ages. This book is often recommended for fans of Girl, Interrupted and Brain on Fire.

Obsessed: A Memoir of My Life with OCD by Allison Britz

This memoir is perfect for a young adult, Britz setting the stage during her sophomore year of high school. After a dream convinces her that she will get brain cancer, she does everything in her power to prevent it. Soon, her avoidant behaviors prevented her from stepping on cracks and touching her own personal belongings. This memoir tells an interesting perspective about how a girl who “has it all” had to fight to get her life back and save her future plans from disintegrating. The book acknowledges that finding help and healing are very possible.

Poetry

Living in the Brambles: A little book of poetry about my personal experiences with OCD, Depression, and Anxiety by Suzi French

This debut, multi-faceted collection from French includes both form poetry such as haiku and traditional rhyming poetry. A quarter of the sales go towards MIND and OCD UK.

Captive: A Poetry Collection on OCD, Psychosis, and Brain Inflammation by Madeline Dyer

Dyer’s OCD was a result of Autoimmune Basal Ganglia Encephalitis, an unusual disease that causes brain inflammation. The collection details her time in therapy while experiencing both psychosis and OCD. While it is a collection of poetry, this can also count as a poetic memoir about Dyer’s experiences.

Fiction

Turtles All the Way Down by John Green

John Green is widely-known for his YA romance and adventure novels alongside his quirky YouTube and TikTok content. Turtles All the Way Down has received a lot of positive praise for its portrayal of OCD and has connected with many YA readers across the globe. Like all of Green’s books, the premise rides on a grand adventure and once-in-a-lifetime event. This time, it’s a billionaire and a grand cash prize. The novel is a perfect exploration of OCD as well as the nature of relationships when suffering from the condition.

OCDaniel by Wesley King

King wrote OCDaniel based off of his own childhood experiences with OCD. As a result, the book is an empathetic look at a 13 year-old keeping his OCD a secret for as long as he can. With the help of a new friend, he becomes more confident in himself. Though OCD symptoms can manifest as early as 7 or 8, King notes in his interview with the CBC that he received pushback about talking about OCD with younger and middle grade children for being “too early” for them to know about mental illness. I don’t know about you, but being told I shouldn’t read something makes me want to read it more. As someone with OCD, I can assure you I would have benefitted a lot more from knowing about OCD earlier than later. So make sure you pick up this book for yourself and any middle graders in your life.

Anthologies

Check Mates: A Collection of Fiction, Poetry, and Artwork About Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder by PEople with OCD

A true representation of OCD means acknowledging that no one case is the same. This anthology features creatives with OCD and their work about OCD. There are a variety of pieces throughout the book to explore the condition, so if you’re looking for broad representation, this collection may be the answer.