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.

Book Review: I Lived on Butterfly Hill by Majorie Agosín

Image Courtesy of Simon and Schuster

If you’re look for your next middle grade read, why not try one that’s perfect for Hispanic Heritage Month?

I Lived on Butterfly Hill is a gorgeous realistic fiction book for middle grade children. Marjorie Agosín’s background as both Chilean and Jewish makes eleven year-old Celeste’s horrific experiences more authentic. Though what is happening in the book is scary, Celeste’s perspective helps to introduce the Pinochet takeover in a way children can understand without downplaying the seriousness of the situation. 

The focus of the first section of the book is the abrupt transition from a peaceful experience under Presidente Alarcon to the takeover of the Pinochet dictatorship.Though I was personally unfamiliar with the events, Agosín uses older characters to delicately explain the parallels between Nazi Germany and Chile to Celeste and to the reader.

Celeste’s family as well as several families around her neighborhood (Butterfly Hill)  are considered as “subversives”, or those threatening the integrity of the new government’s authority. Celeste loves poetry and her parents are doctors who believe in universal healthcare and other human rights, which threaten the new government’s sense of order. Celeste’s friend Cristóbal carries a pendulum around with him that he claims can predict the future. At the beginning of the book, he uses it in front of his friends, but is forced to hide it from guards as soon as the takeover begins. Just like how Cristobal must hide his interests, Celeste’s parents decide to go into hiding after receiving death threats. Eventually, Celeste is told she must move in with her Tía who lives in Maine and learn and adapt to American culture. 

The book, which is a winner of the Pura Belpre Award, also has beautiful black and white illustrations by Lee White to accompany Celeste’s journey. This book masterfully depicts the hardships and triumphs of those living abroad to escape oppression. 

I Lived on Butterfly Hill 

Written by Marjorie Agosín

Illustrated by Lee White

Ages 10 to 14 | 454 pages

Publisher | Atheneum Books for Young Readers

$9.99 US