Author: Vanessa Curtis
Release date: 5th July 2010 UK
Genre: Realism / Contemporary / YA
Target audience: 12+
UK Publisher: Egmont
My name is Zelah Green and I'm a cleanaholic. I spend most of my life running away from germs, dirt, and people. And I'm just about doing ok and then my stepmother packs me off to some kind of hospital to live with a load of strangers. It's stuck in the middle of nowhere. Great. There's Alice who's anorexic. Caro who cuts herself. Silent Sol who has the cutest smile. And then there's me.
Zelah Green is the story of a fourteen-year-old girl suffering from OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder).
Her life revolves around Dirt Alert and Germ Alert and her obsession with avoiding germs and dirt in any form and size knows no bounds. She doesn't touch people, she never touches an object without wrapping her hand in a clean handkerchief, she can't leave a home before cleaning any specks she sees and checking all the appliances, and she spends several hours a day doing her little rituals: washing her hands and face until they're red, doing a certain number of jumps on the stairs, and so on. Her mother died a couple of years ago, her father remarried and now, he has disappeared, leaving Zelah alone with her stepmother who can't and doesn't want to understand Zelah's OCD issues.
One day, without any prior warning, the stepmother sends Zelah to a rehabilitation centre for teenagers who have behavioural problems like Zelah. There are kids who cut themselves, eat pills, never speak or are anorexic. But if they are weird, they are exactly Zelah's kind of normal and in them, Zelah finds friends and for the first time in her life, she is understood.
Zelah is a wonderful, very "tangible" protagonist. She is a teenage girl with a serious problem: she has a severe case of OCD and her family fell apart. With her mother dead and her father gone, she feels like an orphan and all she has are her little rituals, so she clings to them as if for dear life. Because she has no control over her life, she creates control through her rituals and that comforts her. She seems to be very narrow-minded, but she is far from it. She is an insightful girl, but she has been through a lot of pain, so she prefers to suppress it and indulge herself in scrubbing her hands until they're raw. She is a tough kid, but she also has a vulnerable side. In truth, Zelah is simply a wounded girl who only needs love and understanding and with her parents out of her life, the two people she craves for, the rehabilitation centre can offer her a semblance of what she needs, as do the people - the teenagers and the two doctors - who live there.
This book focuses on the journey of a young girl who lost herself completely and who must now find herself again, as well as learn to let go and trust people. Her therapy sessions are very vividly described and I loved that because I could truly feel Zelah's gradual progression towards her personal catharsis. She truly endeared herself to me and I kept my thumbs up for her during the entire time I spent reading the book, hoping she would get better. The therapy is very hard for Zelah, as she is forced to step out of her comfort zone and let go, which is a very hard thing to do for anyone, I imagine. Still, Zelah is brave and by the end of the novel, she makes good progress and wants to get better. I actually found myself being very proud of her.
Apart from Zelah, the author created some very interesting minor characters - Zelah's friends at Forest Hill House, the rehabilitation centre. However, I wish she'd explored them further. Their personal stories all have great premises, but not much is said about them. We know that Alice is an anorexic and very shy, but that is all we get about her. Lib's problem, which I think is drug abuse (pills) is only hinted at. Caro, the girl who cuts herself, and Sol, the boy who never speaks, are given more background and I liked it, but I still wish more was said about these intriguing, wounded teenagers. They really got my attention, especially because one of them is like someone I used to know.
Zelah's progress is not rushed; I'd say it unravels with a normal pace necessary for therapies. The ending is open and hopeful and I am definitely interested in reading the sequel. Zelah's story is great and it has a good message, I think. Simply because someone has mental issues, it doesn't mean they are odd or crazy. They just need help, love and understanding.
Zelah Green is a good, realistic book about real people and real problems, and I can easily recommend it.
Becky says: What a great review! Thanks for sharing your thoughts with us Irena. Zelah Green sounds like such a believable and important book to educate people about mental illness while still giving the reader a great story.
Both our thanks go to Egmont Books for sending the book to review.