cover image Kissing Doorknobs

Kissing Doorknobs

Terry Spencer Hesser. Delacorte Press Books for Young Readers, $15.95 (176pp) ISBN 978-0-385-32329-1

Hesser's unusually polished debut novel brings a singularly compassionate wit to a singularly painful topic. Tara Sullivan does not know how or why she lost ""possession"" of her thoughts, but she can trace her terrible problem to her 11th year, when the rhyme ""Step on a crack, break your mother's back!"" begins to run insistently and ceaselessly through her head. Propelled by a series of irrational fears, Tara counts sidewalk cracks on her way to school and then enacts other equally bizarre rituals (among them, praying aloud when anyone swears; kissing her fingers after touching the doorknob). Her strange behavior puzzles neighbors, alienates her friends and drives her mother into nearly murderous rages. Through Tara's first-person narrative, Hesser compellingly expresses both the anguish and the dark humor of the heroine's obsessive-compulsive disorder (identified near the end of the book, when she begins therapy). At times descriptions of her entrapment are so vivid and intense that readers may need to come up for air. But the lively characterizations (especially of Tara's closest friends and pugilistic younger sister) prevent the protagonist's psychological confinement from becoming claustrophobic to readers. Hesser's thoroughly credible narrative (""I have experienced some of the obsessions and compulsions I have written about,"" Hesser states in her acknowledgments), and fascinating story promote both an intellectual and emotional understanding of a treatable disease. Ages 12-up. (May)