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Kissing DoorknobsReview - Kissing Doorknobs
by Terry Spencer Hesser
Laurel-Leaf Books, 1998
Review by Shara L. Kronmal M.D. Ph.D.
Dec 7th 1999 (Volume 3, Issue 49)

Kissing Doorknobs is a novel by Chicago writer and playwright Terry Spencer Hesser. It is the story of a young girl growing up with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). Like many children with OCD, the narrator’s symptoms develop and change over time. They are a source of bafflement to herself, her friends and parents and become profoundly disruptive to her personal and school life. The narrator (Tara) does not understand what is happening to her and is ashamed and fearful that she is "crazy". She becomes secretive and tries to hide her rituals from others. Similarly, her parents worry that Tara is indeed crazy and make every attempt to prevent her from engaging in her rituals. This results in an escalating sequence of family arguments and occasional physical violence between Tara and her mother.

Visits to several psychiatrists result in little or no benefit and Tara accumulates an assortment of "diagnoses." Finally, a teacher recognizes that Tara has symptoms similar to those of a student with OCD. Tara is introduced to the boy in question and to his therapist who prescribes exposure and response prevention, a form of behavior therapy. The story ends on a hopeful note for Tara who begins therapy and learns to take control of the "tyrants" in her head. But Tara’s friend is simultaneously in the midst of a relapse, highlighting the ongoing battle that most individuals must wage against this illness.

Kissing Doorknobs is well-written and engaging introduction to OCD. It is written at the reading level of an older preteen or teen; however, adults will enjoy it as well. Some of the content may be too distressing or inappropriate for younger children (physical fighting between Tara and her mother, a teen pregnancy, a visit to a pharmacy to buy condoms). The Afterword by AJ Allen M.D. Ph.D. nicely adds a clinical perspective and provides sources of additional information and support. I would definitely recommend this book to patients and families with OCD. It is also recommended for a broader audience as a "coming of age" novel. From a novelistic standpoint, I felt the author sometimes appears too invested in making a clinical point which makes the novel feel a bit didactic, but overall it is a good read.

 

Shara L. Kronmal writes about herself:

I am a Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist with an interest in depressive and anxiety disorders in children, teens and adults. I have an outpatient practice of psychotherapy and medication management through MacNeal Hospital in Berwyn, Illinois. I received my M.D. and Ph.D. (in Molecular Genetics and Cell Biology) from the University of Chicago and completed residency and fellowship training in Psychiatry and Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at the University of Illinois at Chicago. I am an avid reader, hence my interest in the Metapsychology web site.

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