Thursday, April 21, 2011

Book Review: Compulsion by Heidi Ayarbe


Today has to be perfect.
I look at the clock.
10:14 AM.

Ten fourteen. One plus one is two plus four is six plus ten is sixteen minus one is fifteen minus two is thirteen. OK.

I turn from the clock and walk into the hallway. "Ready."

Saturday will be the third state soccer champion­ship in a row for Jake Martin. Three. A good number. Prime. With Jake on the field, Carson City High can't lose because Jake has the magic: a self-created protection generated by his obsession with prime numbers. It's the magic that has every top soccer university recruiting Jake, the magic that keeps his family safe, and the magic that suppresses his anxiety attacks. But the magic is Jake's prison, because sustaining it means his compulsions take over nearly every aspect of his life.

Jake's convinced the magic will be permanent after Saturday, the perfect day, when every prime has converged. Once the game is over, he won't have to rely on his sister to concoct excuses for his odd rituals. His dad will stop treating him like he is some freak. Maybe he'll even make a friend other than Luc.

But what if the magic doesn't stay?

What if the numbers never leave?

Acclaimed author Heidi Ayarbe has created an honest and riveting portrait of a teen struggling with obsessive compulsive disorder in this breathtaking and courageous novel.


The Short Version:
Exhausting and engaging, Compulsion gives a striking look into the mind of a teenage boy with OCD. Ayarbe has masterfully put into words something that is almost indescribable, getting across not only the mental drives but the physical reactions and the need that cannot be ignored. In addition to how fantastically Jake’s world and mindset is written, his relationship with his parents, his sister, and his best friend all play a large role and come through boldly. Raw and gritty, with a well paced and smooth plot, mixed with Ayarbe’s flawless writing, Compulsion will leave a mark and give a brilliant look into the mind of an often ignored disorder.

The Extended Version:
Take away the OCD, and Jake is a normal, kind, well meaning boy. He has his moments of idiocy, yet plenty of things outshine those. He is incredibly real, having plenty of passing thoughts and Ayarbe has given him a very strong, believable male voice that still holds a large crossover for a female readership. His horny thoughts were hilarious and real but smoothly inserted, without being overbearing or a turn off. The depth of Jake’s disorder, however, comes through more strongly than anything else, pulling the reader in and making them feel as much of an outsider as Jake does. The fear of someone finding out, and what they’ll think, is constant and understandable, pitched in a very sensitive way.

Jake’s obsession and need to understand and function with prime numbers is truly exhausting. Ayarbe often includes the way Jake sees the time, figuring out quick math equations in his head that will make the numbers equal a prime. The way he reacts when it is a prime is very different from when it isn’t, and it’s heartbreaking to see the constant, unavoidable struggle. There are some clear differences between Jake and his peers, with a wall he maintains constantly, which often made me question how different he would be if he didn’t suffer from the OCD. When no pep talk could calm him, and when his daily functioning was impaired because of the drive, it truly brought the entire thing up front. Soccer, however, is Jake’s saving grace, and the way this incorporated in was handled flawlessly and expertly.

Luc, Jake’s best friend, is an interesting counterpart, cocky and arrogant and quite the player, but even without the soccer team that unites them, there was a clear connection and underlying kinship between the two. Their home lives are very different, but they really do have each other’s back. Luc was an amusing character, as well as frustrating, but his large presence throughout the book really brought him out as a three-dimensional character. He’s jerky and flawed, but still a good person, and a product of his upbringing as much as anyone else while still trying to resist the worst of it. Not to mention, he garners some hotness points simply for being Columbian in heritage.

There is a very large internal component to this book, centered around the OCD and Jake’s determination to keep it hidden that is as large as the drive to obey the numbers. With several intense and emotional scenes, and a growing sense of foreboding, Ayarbe truly shows just how far this disorder can go to really tear a family apart and disrupt even the simplest of daily activities. Though the source of Jake’s issues are his OCD, there are some universal truths and feelings that come out, which are masterfully woven in. From being in a group but feeling alone to a closed in, lost and scared feeling, there is something everyone can relate to and understand, giving an easy bridge to understanding the feel degree of Jake’s disorder.

Add in Jake’s intense love for his little sister and their relationship, his mom’s own issues and OCD which has done some damage to their family, and a father trying to keep it together, and there is also a strong family component. Dysfunctional but still there, Ayarbe really blends Jake’s school and home worlds, along with his friends. The plot has some twists but primarily, it is focused on Jake trying to make his way through everything. The pacing is steady, giving humor at the right moments and intensity at other, each one timed perfectly. A very strong, authentic male voice, unerring grit, and a stunning writing style all pull together to make one truly compelling, emotional and beautiful book.

Source: ARC received from publisher in exchange for an honest review 
Reading level: Young Adult 
Hardcover: 304 pages 
Publisher: Balzer + Bray
Publication Date: May 3, 2011


  1. This looks thrilling! When I saw the cover I though of Numbers by Rachel Ward (loved) but it's not like that at all! Totally adding this one to my TBR!

  2. I've been on the fence with this book about whether or not it sounded like something I would like to read. Books focusing on characters with mental disorders can are largely do or die based on the author's writing, so I'm glad to hear this one was well done. After reading your review, I'm definitely leaning more towards reading it. Thanks for the review!

    - Cassandra @ Wickedly Delicious Tales

  3. this sounds really interesting! i better get a copy of this. thanks for the review! i am a new follower. :)

  4. Thanks for the review, this one sounds good!