MMGM and #IMWAYR: Puzzled!

So tired, y'all, but making it through! Finals are kind-of-sort-of happening in grad school right now, and then independent of that, there's about 7300 different things on my schedule, which are both fun and exhausting!

Even so, I am determined to keep blogging—getting to nerd out about books with you all has made this month so much more tolerable! I finished one graphic memoir this week, plus I have some other book-related things to discuss.

So let's dive in!

Middle Grade:

Puzzled

A Memoir about Growing Up with OCD

Written and illustrated by Pan Cooke
Graphic memoir · 2024
Recommended by Kellee Moye

· · · The publisher says: · · ·

Growing up with undiagnosed OCD sure isn’t easy, and here Pan Cooke shares his own experiences with that condition in a graphic-novel memoir that is as funny as it is powerfully candid and openhearted.

Pan Cooke is ten years old when anxious thoughts begin to take over his brain like pieces of an impossible puzzle. What if he blurts out a swear word while in church? What if he accidentally writes something mean in his classmate’s get-well card? What if his friend’s racy photo of a supermodel ends up in his own homework and is discovered by his teacher? More and more, he becomes hijacked by fears that can only be calmed through exhausting, time-consuming rituals.

Pan has no way of knowing that this anxiety puzzle and the stressful attempts to solve it are evidence of a condition called Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. This is his story of living with and eventually learning about OCD. Told with endearing honesty and humor, Puzzled shows the reader the importance of empathy for oneself and those going through something they don’t yet understand.

· · · · · ·

I've wanted to read this since the minute Kellee Moye recommended it, because I have OCD myself, and I've seen it represented in very few stories, most of which aren't graphic novels. (An exception is Just Roll with It, a phenomenal graphic novel I will reference later!) Now that the book is finally here, I'm excited to share my thoughts!

Even though my symptoms are not the same as Pan Cooke's, I can say without a doubt that this is a representation of OCD that is both extremely faithful and impressively accessible. It has the key details that most if not all people with OCD will relate to, and Cooke makes strong use of metaphors to bring the reader into an experience that is really, really difficult to explain. The overarching metaphor of trying to solve a puzzle where the pieces don't fit resonates so much with me—that feeling of trying and trying, and pushing and pushing, and it won't work but you keep going, because it has to work, and you can't stop. Gosh, I know that feeling.

One of the tricky things about OCD is that, because the obsessions are so incredibly irrational, I suspect it's very hard for people who don't have OCD to imagine what it's like. And it's weird, because I rationally know the electronics in my house won't overheat and catch fire just because they're touching each other. I knew that when I was young! But I still used to go around and make sure nothing was touching, just in case. Better safe than sorry. (Those phrases are like the definition of OCD, in my opinion.) I appreciate Cooke chronicling his often-elaborate and dramatic fears of what would happen if he didn't act on his compulsions—like my often-elaborate and dramatic fears of the whole house burning down if I didn't take this one moment to go check all the electronics.

I guess with all that in mind (sorry, this is an unwieldy review), I'm not 100% convinced that people who read this will really, truly get what it's like to have these thoughts that are so obviously irrational, and so incredibly convincing and persistent nonetheless. I'd be curious to hear other readers' thoughts, because I think one issue is that this all hits so close to home for me that it's hard for me to really imagine what it's like to be in Cooke's shoes—that would require me to remember things about my own past experience I've very much locked away.

Something I do wish for is a book that would balance a fairly thorough examination of OCD symptoms with a fairly thorough plot outside of OCD. Just Roll with It, the other book I mentioned, doesn't get super-deep into OCD symptoms, though the ones it tackles are depicted quite accurately—but because it spends so much time creating delightful characters and plot lines, it ends up being a really wonderful book to spend time in! On the other hand, Puzzled gets really deep into symptoms, and captures all that nuance I've lived through—but because it's so focused on symptoms and not so much on Cooke's life, it's not a story I felt super-immersed in as I was reading it. I know from experience that OCD symptoms, in all their glory, take place alongside life, in all its glory, and I kind of wish I could find a graphic novel that nailed that balance of both things, not just one or the other.

One last thing—this is probably the closest thing I have to a complaint about Puzzled. There's a scene in this book that feels, to me, as though it's making fun of one of Cooke's childhood classmates for looking at (per the synopsis above) "racy photo[s] of a supermodel." This scene is really just here to provide context for one of Cooke's obsessions (see the synopsis above for details). But I'm bothered by the way the scene seemed to imply that young people having sexualities and attraction, and being curious about that, is shameful or funny or stupid. The reason this bugged me so much is that a lot of my own OCD symptoms as a kid involved guilt about my own sexuality (in hindsight, definitely tied to the idea that gay people like me are perverts), and I know my younger self really needed to hear that it was okay to be attracted to people—it doesn't make me a bad person. I know these kinds of symptoms are common for people with OCD, and I worry people like me will come away from this scene feeling like there really is something wrong with them, for an experience that is in fact extremely natural and developmentally normal.

Sorry to end that on such a downer—that is such a small detail in a book that is otherwise the best depiction of OCD I've ever read, and that was clearly crafted with such care and attention by Pan Cooke! I cannot imagine how much strength it took to lay bare all these personal experiences, and really dig into the memories of them in order to create these metaphors that allow readers without OCD to begin to understand what the condition is like. I think, having OCD myself, I may just be a tough crowd to please!

One positive to end on: I really like that this book shows how you can recover from OCD symptoms, no matter how severe they are. I myself am so much healthier than I've ever been, to the point where I sometimes feel like I don't even have OCD (although I suspect people around me would beg to differ). The point is, I hope this book gives kids like me hope that, with patience and some less-than-fun exposure therapy, you actually can get back to living the life you want to live, not the life these stressful thoughts are spinning up around you.

Currently reading:

Mexikid

A Graphic Memoir

Written and illustrated by Pedro Martín
Middle grade · Graphic memoir · 2023
Recommended by Lisa Maucione and Cheriee Weichel

· · · The publisher says: · · ·

NEWBERY HONOR AWARD WINNER • An unforgettable graphic memoir about a Mexican American boy’s family and their adventure-filled road trip to bring their abuelito back from Mexico

Pedro Martín has grown up hearing stories about his abuelito—his legendary crime-fighting, grandfather who was once a part of the Mexican Revolution! But that doesn't mean Pedro is excited at the news that Abuelito is coming to live with their family. After all, Pedro has 8 brothers and sisters and the house is crowded enough! Still, Pedro piles into the Winnebago with his family for a road trip to Mexico to bring Abuelito home, and what follows is the trip of a lifetime, one filled with laughs and heartache. Along the way, Pedro finally connects with his abuelito and learns what it means to grow up and find his grito.

· · · · · ·

I know Cheriee Weichel just recommended this book and loved it, and it's plastered in awards—and I'm really liking it too! But because of chaos, I haven't made a dent in it this week—with the little spare time I have this week, I'm going to try to change that!

Bookish thoughts:

April's been a weird month, but somehow, I've been lucky enough not just to visit three indie bookstores, but also to attend the North Texas Teen Book Festival on Saturday!!! I attended way back in 2019, before the pandemic, but hadn't been back since then, and it is still absolutely amazing. Big-name MG and YA authors everywhere you look, fascinating panels and workshops, signings (I got to meet four authors!), and bazillions of kids who are such big readers, you see them spontaneously pulling their books out while waiting for panels to start! Going to this event warms my heart. Look at the crowds:






This is an event worth going to, if you ever get the chance in future years!

That's all for now—I hope you get to bury your nose in a book this week! ✨✨

Comments

  1. Book festivals are so much fun. I haven't been to one in years, but really need to get myself to the LA Times Festival next year.

    It's so great that you are open about your OCD. I have close friends who have it and I try to remember that they have/understand the obtrusive thoughts so that I can be a supportive friend. I wish it was easier for them.

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  2. Good luck on your finals. Grad school is a special kind of exhausting and punishing. It will be lovely when finals are over though! Thanks for blogging even though you are busy!

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  3. Glad you'll be finished with finals soon and hopefully can look forward to a little break in studies! Are you going to have some time for yourself this summer? I really appreciated reading your thoughts on Puzzled--and think I will check out Just Roll With It first. Mexikid is on my stack at home --so many good books to look forward to!

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  4. Good luck on your finals. And thanks for taking the time to share a review - Puzzled sounds like an interesting read.

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  5. Oh, wow! How exciting that you got to go to the North Texas Teen Book Festival! Definitely a little jealous! :-)

    Nicole @ Feed Your Fiction Addiction

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  6. I've had more than a few students who had been diagnosed with OCD, Max, and first, wishing I had had any great books that they could have read, to see themselves. As you wrote, each person differs in the way their personal OCD affects them, so as a teacher, and I did teach middle-schoolers, I generally let them lead, and I supported them. I'll look for both books, & just an FYI, I loved Mexikid, too, hope you enjoy it! Congrats on finishing up at school for a while! Enjoy a break!

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  7. You have me beat by about 7,000 in comparing our schedules! I've had the opportunity to work with several students with OCD and this type of book is a welcome addition to the shelves. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and enjoy some time off in the coming months.

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  8. The book festival sounds like a great event. Hope you enjoy Mexikid! Thanks for all your insight into Puzzled. I like that there is an aspect of hopefulness to it.

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  9. That's a really thoughtful review. I love the way you compared the different experience of reading both books-- that's really helpful. Have you read Shannon Hale's Real Friends series? I think in the second book, she introduces some of the symptoms she later comes to understand are part of an OCD diagnosis, but it's not really what the whole story is about. Anyway-- thanks for sharing your review! I hope you enjoy your next read. Happy MMGM!

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  10. I enjoyed reading your bookish adventure. I definitely wish I had more of those. I appreciated your review of Puzzled. It's funny to me how much of ourselves and our own experiences we bring in to the reading experience so I could totally relate to your review.

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  11. Best of luck with the finals, hope all goes well and you are not too exhausted! OCD is a hard thing to deal with, and it's great to have good depictions in stories especially to show that things can get better, can be managed,. The book fair sounds fabulous! Hope you get a good break over the summer and catchup on lots of reading! Thanks for sharing!

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  12. I've never gone to a book fair. I'll bet it was great fun for you. Thanks for the post.

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Please feel free to leave a comment—I always love reading them! ✨✨

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