September 10, 2011

Cryer's Cross: Guest Review

Ashley from Books from Bleh to Basically Amazing is here today for a Psychtember guest review of Cryer's Cross!

Cryer's Cross by Lisa McMann is a book I was really looking forward to reading. There was a lot of buzz about it in the blogging world before it came out. It seemed like it was going to be one of those wonderfully creepy books and it had a character dealing with a mental illness. Great, right?

Sadly, no. Not even close. :( It's a book that, in my opinion, failed on two levels. The first, was the story itself. It's supposed to be a creepy story about dangerous and bad happenings in a tiny town. When there are just over 200 people living in one town, everyone is noticed and one teenager going missing is a big deal. So when a second teen goes missing, everyone kind of panics. For Kendall, it's especially devastating, because the second student to go missing is her very best (and really only) friend. But even worse, Kendall has an OCD, so any disruption in her life and her schedule is more extreme that for most people, and she doesn't handle it very well on any level. 

Every few chapters, there was a short, 2-5 paragraph chapter in italics that was supposed to be spooky and creepy, and I imagine it was supposed to scare the readers. It's supposed to read like this haunted, disembodied voice, leaving cryptic clues and messages, to give the reader tiny hints here and there about what was really going on. But rather then being creepy they were boring, and with the exception of what '35 or 100' meant, I had everything pretty well figured out long before the end of the book. These sections with the cryptic voice of doom just tried too hard and just... didn't really work for me. 

But even more than that, the second level I feel the book failed on, I did not like the way Kendall's OCD was portrayed. You might have read my guest post for Danya about how I feel about OCD in YA (read that hereor my much more rant-like post about the topic on my own blog (read that here). If you have, you already have an idea of why this book would anger and frustrate me so much. I'm not an expert on OCD and I don't claim to be, but I do know enough to recognize that this book is not really an accurate portrayal of what a person experiencing an OCD really goes through. 

For one thing, an OCD is much more than just a loop of thought. More often than not, Kendall's OCD is portrayed as an idea getting stuck in her mind that repeats over and over and over. And while that is a part of OCD, it's different in reality than how it's portrayed here. Not all the thoughts that repeat in Kendall's mind are irrational and she is also able to control and regulate them sometimes. Also, she doesn't have a compulsion to get rid of the thoughts or the anxiety they cause. The thoughts don't even really give her anxiety, it's just annoying that she can't always change what she's thinking. Her compulsions are things like checking her locks before bed, and are completely unrelated to her obsessive thoughts. AND, when Kendall is too tired, she forgets to check the lock and just falls asleep (pg 25). THAT IS NOT REALISTIC. A compulsion is not something you 'remember' to do. It is something that you MUST do. If you truly have an OCD, you have to do it. It's an anxiety disorder and just NOT following through on the compulsions leads to serious and intense anxiety; the kind of anxiety that makes it impossible to function. 

Warning- This next part kinda gets a little spoilery, so I've put some of it in white text. Highlight to read:

I felt like McMann exploited a mental illness to give her character an easy out at the end of this book. Kendall finds her self trapped within the haunting and her "OCD brain" picks up one thought and won't let it go. She thinks it over and over, which allows her to break the hold the haunting has on her mind. BUT THAT IS NOT WHAT AN OCD IS! An OCD is not a one-track mind that thinks the same thought over and over again. You can read either of my posts for a more detailed explanation, but an OCD is the combination of an Obsession- irrational and uncontrollable thought(s) AND the Compulsion that follows, which is an action taken by the person to overcome the anxiety caused by the thought. The person suffering from the OCD knows the thoughts and subsequent actions are irrational but cannot control them, and it is something that is disruptive to their lives. Kendall does not have that. 

Not only that, but I HATED the way both Kendall and other characters talked about the OCD. There is a scene where Kendall tells her mom that her "OCD is going crazy" (48). WTF. It's just... Not realistic. In any way. And it really bothers me. I'm trying really hard not to let this review turn into a huge rant again, since I already went there, but it really bothers me that people are going to read this book and assume that this is what a person suffering from OCD is like, or that this is what it means to have an OCD. And it's not. More than anything else, Kendall says she has OCD, but honestly, I never really saw thoughts or behaviors that could really be classified as an OCD. I felt like it was the author telling us she had an OCD so that she could use it to justify her ending. 

There were some things about the book that I did like. Jacien was great and I did like the way the relationship between him and Kendall grew and changed. His sister was also a great character and I liked watching Kendall interact when others (as long as she wasn't trying to describe her OCD). I'm still planning to read the Wake Trilogy, but I am highly unlikely to ever read a story of hers again if it has a character with a mental illness. 

Using a mental illness as an easy way out of an otherwise troublesome ending is wrong. It's wrong and does a disservice to both people who have an OCD and to the readers who are now going to walk away with yet another misconception about mental illness. 

Ashley has been fascinated by the mind since before she can remember and decided long before college that Psychology would be her field of study. She received a BS in Psychology and is currently deciding where it should take her next. Ashley would like it to be made clear that she is not an expert in the field, and that the thoughts and feelings expressed are hers derived from both academic and personal study and experience.  

Thanks for providing this detailed and thorough review, Ashley!

Readers — are you familiar with Cryer's Cross? What did you think of the way the OCD was handled?


  1. I just didn't think that the OCD was that big of a part of this story. I enjoyed the creepiness factor. My daughter has OCD tendencies -- she knows this, she majored in psychology, and she realizes she does things that she is compelled to do, even though they don't make sense. She can't help it. But, there are varying levels of severity. Even if the OCD wasn't portrayed accurately, I wouldn't presume to use this book as a definition, since I didn't think it was that essential to the plot. I guess I'm not critical enough when I read fiction. It's fiction. If I want to know about OCD, I would definitely consult a more authoritative source than a fictional story.

  2. Annette- I can see where you are coming from. But I do disagree with you that OCD wasn't that big a part of the story. Especially considering the spoiler section. OCD is the defining characteristic of Kendall. And I don't believe it was portrayed or represented accurately here. And, even if you recognize that this book isn't an authority on OCD, or to be used as a definition, what we read still becomes a part of our overall understanding of the disorder. And I HAVE seen more than one review of this book that says- I didn't know much about OCD before reading this book, but now I have all this info/knowledge. And that does bother me. Because I don't think this book really represented OCD accurately, which is a disservice to everyone who suffers from it.

  3. I didn't finish this book for exactly the reasons you mentioned. I wasn't scared and I had the "bad guy" figured out by the first section in italics.

    The other part of it was the portrayal of Kendall. It really bugged me how she was written. It was like she was a broken four year old. I'm sorry, but OCD does not make someone act in a regressive, childlike fashion. An OCD doesn't flare up like a rash. The whole portrayal felt like a pop-psych-level understanding. The sleeping through her compulsion scene made me do a double take, too.

  4. I rather liked Cryer's Cross though I agree the OCD seemed like more of an afterthought then a major factor of Kendall's character. I saw her compulsions through her need to organize the school desks in the morning, and her nervousness when she didn't, though I didn't really feel the insistent 'need' I would associate with OCD.

  5. Ahh I did not like this book - I felt like it was not scary at all, and I just didn't like the overall execution unfortunately.


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