Perfection. It’s a notion many of us strive for, but something so rarely met. Being the prettiest, the smartest, the fastest. The skinniest. The most popular. Or, to some, a more quiet, less showy pursuit of perfection: being the cleanest, the most organized, or the one most able to create order in their chaotic, everyday life. Is there ever an end point, one where a person can stand back and view his accomplishments with a satisfied smile, arms crossed over his chest, all while thinking to himself, yes! This is perfection! Or is perfection merely an illusion, something sought after with almost reckless abandon, until the seeker himself is so caught up in finding perfect that he or she loses himself along the way?
This is the idea behind Elly Swartz’s thought-provoking and heart-wrenching debut novel, Finding Perfect, about twelve year old Molly Nathans, a sixth grader struggling with obsessive compulsive disorder. To Molly, perfection is the number four, the tip of a newly sharpened pencil, and her perfectly aligned glass animal figurines. Not perfect? Her mother’s sudden absence to take on a new job. Molly concocts a plan to bring her mother back home, believing that if she wins her school’s slam poetry contest, her mom will never miss the celebratory banquet. But writing her poems becomes increasingly harder as Molly’s obsessive habits begin to spiral out of control, and the rest of her life suddenly does too. Will Molly’s compulsions keep her in check, or will they actually be the very things preventing her from finding her own version of perfect?
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Swartz’s Finding Perfect is a stellar debut tackling obsessive compulsive disorder, a little discussed disorder that affects nearly 500,000 children in the United States. This is the first middle grade book I’ve come across discussing this mental health challenge, and it does so in an authentic, heartfelt and honest manner. Molly’s voice is pitch perfect and emotionally resonant. Her obsession with perfection, made increasingly dire by her mother’s absence, the trials and tribulations of being a middle schooler, and her sudden fear that a lack of order will adversely affect her brother’s health, creates authentic desperation. Molly leaves readers heart broken — yet achingly hopeful — as her life spins out of control and she is unable to remove herself from the clutches of OCD’s vicious web. Finding Perfect will ring true with all children struggling to find their own versions of “perfect” in a society increasingly focused on putting unrealistic demands on children, which often causes kids to place absurdly unrealistic expectations on themselves. An important read, a powerful read, and one that belongs in all middle and elementary school libraries.
Want the book? Get it here! Finding Perfect, by Elly Swartz. *This is an affiliate link.