What If? – Anna Russell

Josh is a drummer, is good at maths and loves The Beatles. He also needs to count the cracks in the ceiling and perform specific rituals exactly the right way or something really bad will happen. Josh has Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and that is why I needed to read this book.

I have a family member with OCD and I was the one that unofficially diagnosed them several years before someone qualified to do so concurred. Besides living with it I’ve spent countless hours researching OCD to try to get into this person’s head, to understand why the light switch has to be turned on and off so many times and why they’ve had a catalogue of obsessions and rituals, some constant and others morphing, over the years.

When I discovered this was a hi-lo book I was initially disappointed as my first hi-lo experience was a let down. I was pleasant surprised by this book though, finding the explanations of what OCD is and how it affects Josh’s everyday life easy to understand and accurate. I really liked Josh’s psychiatrist, who takes a perplexing condition and explains the basics in a down to earth way.

There are descriptions of Josh’s struggles before and after his diagnosis and I appreciated that his treatment was multifaceted. I did feel that Josh’s acceptance of his condition and how quickly he began to learn to manage it wandered into wishful thinking territory but acknowledge that that may be my experience talking.

I thought the information given to Josh about a family member towards the end of the book was obvious from the beginning but again I concede that my experience may account for my “I already knew that” moment. I loved that the other characters accepted Josh and tried to understand what he was going through and that his diagnosis wasn’t the end of the world, resulting instead in learning to manage it and accepting help from others.

I was interested in the characters’ stories but didn’t become emotionally invested with anyone. However I don’t think it’s fair to automatically expect a lifelong bond with characters you meet during such a short book.

While I would have liked the impact of Josh’s diagnosis on his family to be explored further I understood that the length of the book made a deep dive on the issues raised prohibitive. Similarly the impact of the death of another character’s parent was only lightly touched on. I loved the way that music was woven through the story.

I really liked that this book was told in verse; the way it was written made poetry more accessible than anything I came across in high school. Besides its intended purpose as a hi-lo book I think What If? would also be a helpful introduction to OCD for teens who have recently been diagnosed and their family members, regardless of their reading level.

Thank you to NetGalley and West 44 Books for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Josh Baker isn’t sure why his brain tells him to do things that other people don’t need to do: checking his locker again and again, counting cracks in ceilings, and always needing to finish a song, for starters. He is a talented drummer, a math genius, and he knows everything about rock and roll. Yet, he knows his problems have the power to hurt his family and make him fail at school. When Josh is diagnosed with OCD, it’s a blessing and a curse. Can he overcome his thoughts, or will they break him?

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