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Thursday, November 05, 2009

Saving Sammy Hard to Believe, Even Harder to Forget

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

"I look in the mirror, and I see a stranger. I look at the green eyes that used to sparkle back. All I see is sadness and exhaustion. If I look long enough, they fill with tears, but I don't have time to look. I am in a constant state of motion. I'm dispensing meds, or ordering meds, or trying to remember something about the meds. I'm e-mailing doctors and asking questions. I'm trying hard not to scream at them with the words I type. I call my friends and sob, but not for me. I sob for him: that life could be so unfair, that he could be so brilliant and so trapped. Then he calls to me and I go to him, and I know that I will lie again and tell him there is hope" (138-39).

How many times have you heard someone laugh off his eccentricities with a flippant, "Oh, that's just my OCD coming out?" How many times have you chuckled knowingly, remembering your own neuroses - the way you have to make your bed just so, or how you can't stand it if the toilet paper is on the holder in the improper position, or the way that you can't stop yourself from sweeping up every crumb that hits the floor as soon it lands? I dare you to laugh about OCD after reading the first four pages of Saving Sammy: Curing the Boy Who Caught OCD by Beth Alison Maloney. You won't. I guarantee it.
Maloney's story begins the summer her middle son, Sammy, turns 12. A smart, happy child, he enjoyed competing in mathathons, playing Dungeons & Dragons with his friends, and hunting for treasures along the shoreline near his home in Kennebunkport, Maine. Then, Maloney buys a new home, moving herself and her three boys away from the beachfront rental home they'd come to love. His parents' recent divorce, plus the stress of moving, seems to traumatize Sammy. Beth watches as he takes up strange behaviors - walking around with his eyes shut, navigating only with his hands; refusing to sleep in his new bedroom; avoiding physical contact; spinning, hopping and jerking at odd times. What begins as puzzling soon becomes alarming. Sammy's compulsions start to take over his life - he can't leave the house without performing a complicated routine; he won't shower, brush his teeth, or change his clothes; he can't stand having windows open or the sight of bare feet or the sound of loud breathing. He apologizes constantly for inconveniencing his family, but he can't seem to control his need for things to be a certain way.

Terrified, Beth searches for a doctor willing to see Sammy, finally landing in the New Hampshire office of psychiatrist Dr. Drill. His diagnosis? Obsessive compulsive disorder. The answer makes sense, but Beth's still troubled. With its sudden onset and no family history of OCD, she can't fathom how her son ended up with the condition. Still, she follows the doctor's advice. As Sammy's symptoms get worse and worse, Beth knows there's more to it than OCD. Second diagnosis? Tourette's. Despite the usual medications used to treat the disease, Sammy's still no better. His obsessions keep him confined to the house, where the family has to walk on eggshells so as not to disturb his fragile psyche. Exhausted, depressed and terrified, Beth vows to help her son. No matter what it takes. When her research leads to a controversial study linking OCD to strep throat, she thinks she's finally found her answer. The only problem lies in convincing Sammy's doctors. With stubborn determination, she braces herself for war, battling doctors, researchers and anyone who stands in the way of her son and the cure she knows is out there. Long after others would have given up, she fights. She won't stop until she has her Sammy back. And she doesn't.

Saving Sammy is an incredible, absorbing story that is as troubling as it is inspiring. My heart ached for the boy whose compulsions made his life a living hell; for his brothers, who dreaded being at home; and especially for Beth, whose agony is palpable. Her story is a rebuke of the doctors who stubbornly refused to look beyond their beloved studies, letting patients suffer before allowing themselves to move past their foregone conclusions. It's a call-to-action, urging parents everywhere to stand up for their sick children. Mostly, it's a testimony to the strength and perserverance of a mother who refused to back down. And to the boy she brought back from the very brink of insanity. It's a story you're not going to believe, and one you won't soon forget.

Grade: A

If this were a movie, it would be rated: PG for mature themes

To the FTC, with love: I received Saving Sammy from TLC Book Tours. The fact that I received the book free of charge has nothing to do with the way I graded it - I gave it an A because that's exactly what it deserves.


  1. WOW! I am so glad you enjoyed the book. You make it sound really compelling.

    Thanks so much for the time spent reading and reviewing Saving Sammy. We really appreciate it!

  2. Wow! Great review. Sounds like a really amazing book.

  3. Excellent review, as always. I thought this was a wonderful book too. I have a child with OCD (not PANDAS) and while people make a lot of jokes about OCD, the jokes are nothing like the devastating reality. I'll add a link to your review in my review of Saving Sammy.

  4. Wow, sounds like a great book! I think we all have a little OCD at times, I definitely admit to it. I can't imagine it being so intense.


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