The frenetic compulsions of (almost) 15-year-old Adam Spencer Ross vibrate off the pages of Toronto author Teresa Toten’s latest YA novel. In the space of a heartbeat, Adam falls for Robyn, the newest member of his support group for adolescents with obsessive-compulsive disorder. He becomes fixated on conquering his obsessions – ordering, counting, and rituals for crossing thresholds – so he can help Robyn get better. When the group is asked to select nicknames, everyone chooses a superhero (with the notable exception of a girl who picks “Snooki”). Robyn predictably selects Robin, and Adam jumps at the chance to be her Batman. Despite the lighthearted tone of this set-up, a dark, increasingly ugly secret threatens Adam’s progress, and his life begins to rapidly spin out of control.
Toten masterfully portrays the turbulent emotions and deep-seated fears of someone suffering from mental illness: knowing that something’s wrong but not knowing how to fix it, the roller coaster of moods marked by extreme highs and equally drastic lows, and anxiety about others discovering one’s secrets. A cast of supporting characters – including a kind therapist, a younger stepbrother, a well-meaning but somewhat oblivious father and stepmother, and a mom who has her own issues – allow Toten to examine the possible genetic and environmental links to mental health.
Ultimately, the book draws the reader in with its emotional intensity and sophistication. The Unlikely Hero of Room 13B is a beautiful, heart-wrenching story of life, loss, love, brokenness, and the purest form of bravery: giving in and asking for help.