Teresa Toten is the author of the acclaimed Blondes series, as well as The Game, The Onlyhouse, among other books. Teresa has twice been shortlisted for the Governor General’s Literary Award. Born in Zagreb, Croatia, but left for Canada on that same day, she lives in Toronto.
Deep, understated, and wise, this engaging YA novel, winner of the Governor General's Award in Canada, is about more than the tough issue of teens dealing with obsessive-compulsive order. It also has romance, and a whodunit element that will keep readers guessing. Perfect for readers who love "Eleanor & Park" as well as "All the Bright Places."
Adam Spencer Ross is almost fifteen, and he's got his hands full confronting the everyday problems that come with having divorced parents and a stepsibling. Add to that his obsessive-compulsive disorder and it's just about impossible for him to imagine ever falling in love. Adam's life changes, however, the instant he meets Robyn Plummer: he is hopelessly, desperately drawn to her. But is it possible to have a normal relationship when your life is anything but?
Filled with moments of deep emotion and unexpected humor, "The Unlikely Hero of Room 13B" explores the complexities of living with OCD and offers the prospect of hope, happiness, and healing.
1. Adam, along with the other kids of Room 13B, suffers from severe OCD. Why did you choose to focus on mental illness rather than physical illness?
I was both moved and inspired by the brilliant young people in my life who are struggling with anxiety disorders, OCD and other mental health issues. I’m also lucky enough to get a lot of letters from my readers and many of them have brought me to my knees with their outpouring of pain. All of that swirled around in my head for years until Adam was born.
2. Everyone in Room 13B becomes obsessed with superheroes after adopting their favorites as a form of pseudonym. Adam, especially, becomes enthralled by the idea of being Batman. Why did you choose to include this? And also, who’s your favorite superhero? (Mine’s Batman!)
I confess to being a former superhero comic addict. I knew that some therapists use the technique of alter egos in group therapy and voila, my superheroes came to the rescue as the perfect vehicle. I devoured all the comics, but I way preferred the Marvel franchise over DC, EXCEPT for my favorite super hero—who else but The Batman?!
3. How much research into mental illness did you have to do?
Unlikely Hero took over a year of research before I wrote a word. I read a great deal, interviewed many sufferers, spoke to therapists, sat in on group therapies and attended an International conference on OCD. I also had the book fact-checked by a renowned specialist in OCD and a priest who is also a practicing therapist. It was a two for the price of one deal with the priest since there’s also a lot of Catholic stuff in the book!
4. Adam’s mother and stepbrother also suffer from some form of mental illness. What was your reasoning behind having so many family members coping with different variations of the disease?
One in every five people suffer from some kind of mental disorder in their lifetime and over 25% of the teen population struggle with anxiety disorders!. Pretty much every family is affected in some way. And many of those issues (especially anxiety or OCD disorders) have a very strong genetic component. I wanted to shed some light on that and in a way, normalize it. Hey, it happens, a lot. Adam’s family are loving, caring and decent people who are also challenged by mental illness. The key word is “illness.” It’s an illness like any other illness, like diabetes, or high blood pressure. Sometimes it’s treatable, curable, or just manageable. There may be setbacks or new treatments. What we have to do is finally destroy the stigma and secrecy that still sticks to this particular illness.
5. Are any of your characters’ experiences based off of people you know in real life?
Absolutely. I “stole” directly from many of the teens I know and even from some of the adults. So many people were hugely open and generous with their “secrets” with me.
6. Adam loves to play a game called Warmachine. I’m only vaguely familiar with it, but can you tell us a little about how it works? Why did you choose to have him play this kind of tabletop game rather than a sport or video game?
Okay, I “stole” that too. A wonderful young man introduced me to this tabletop warrior game. You have to make your figurines and it can and does get massively elaborate. I spent endless hours pouring over YouTube sites of collectors and players and warriors. I kind of think that I would have liked to play it with Adam and Ben to tell you the truth.
7. If your book were made into a movie, who would you like to see cast?
It would need a young and totally undiscovered cast that would go on to awesome Hollywood careers, but Denzel Washington would play the ever patient Jamaican psychiatrist.
8. Are you a pantser or a plotter?
God, I wish I could plot. Twenty years of writing and. . .I just can’t do it. The rebellious, whiney, kid in me gives up all semblance of any outline by chapter 3.
9. Coffee or tea?
Espresso coffee and lots of it!
10. Favorite movie? Show? Band?
Favorite of the past year: The Grand Budapest Hotel
Favorite show of all time: The Wire
Favorite Band: Depends on what I’m writing (I’m not kidding) for Unlikely Hero I listened to a lot of jazz.
Come meet Teresa on March 18th at Books Inc. Alameda!