Discover the inspiration for “Every Last Word” with Tamera Ireland Stone in this exclusive interview. Learn the true story behind the YA Booktok sensation!
Today I get to introduce you to my daughter’s favorite book and author! This book discovery was made long before it became a Booktok sensation or New York Times bestseller, and her beloved copy is so lovingly worn.
Every Last Word Summary
Every Last Word is a must-read book, shedding light on teens’ struggles with OCD. As we know, mental illness is an important topic in YA literature, and Stone’s beautiful story was inspired by someone special to her.
This novel illustrates our common misconceptions of OCD (the main character doesn’t even have a tidy room!).
It tackles the more complicated stuff, like the stream of dark thoughts. For example, being obsessive with something like the number 3 and unable to drive your friends because your odometer must always have that number on it.
What is Age-Rating for Every Last Word?
Common Sense Media shares that the YA novel is recommended for readers that are 14 years old or older. Check their site for content warnings for this selection and if it is right for you.
Every Last Word: Tamera Ireland Stone Exclusive Interview
Sam, the main character in your story, is a teen secretly struggling with OCD. Why did you decide to talk about this illness, and what do you hope your YA readers will gain from sharing this story?
I first became interested in telling a story about a teen with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) when a close family friend was diagnosed four years ago, at age twelve.
We’re keeping her identity under wraps, so I call her C.
It was heartbreaking to hear how the disorder affected her. She couldn’t sleep. She felt powerless to a stream of negative, often terrifying thoughts.
And her group of friends unknowingly made things harder. I couldn’t imagine dealing with something so intense, especially at such a young age.
In the years that followed her initial diagnosis, I’ve been so inspired by the way C and her family tackled this disorder—together.
They worked in lock step with her psychiatrist, who prescribed medication to help her sleep at night and quiet her mind during the day.
They interviewed therapists until they landed on one their daughter felt she could trust and confide in. And they helped her channel her energy into activities that made her feel good about herself.
They’re the reason I wanted to write this story. They set such a positive example, and it was one I felt inspired to share.
C hoped this story would help teens who are struggling with mental illness know they’re not alone, and not “broken.” And she hoped that this story would help people who don’t have to deal with mental health conditions see those who do through a kinder, more sympathetic lens.
This story is for her, and for all the special, powerful, brilliant, not-at-all-broken minds like hers.
There seems to be a growing trend to talk about mental illness right now in YA fiction. Why do you think it has become an important theme in this genre of literature?
It’s interesting to me that all of these stories are coming out this year. As authors, we obviously didn’t intend to start or be part of a “trend.” We all just happened to start writing books we thought needed to be written.
Many people in my life are dealing with various mental health conditions, personally or with their children.
We talk about it. And as parents, we’ve opened the conversation with our kids in an effort to make it a safe, judgment-free topic. I think that’s a crucial real-life trend.
My son had some anxiety issues when I started writing Every Last Word. He was barely 11 years old at the time.
I bought an illustrated book about anxiety, and we sat down and read it together. When we got to the symptoms—racing heart, shortness of breath, stomachaches—he broke into tears. He finally said, “It’s anxiety? I thought I had cancer!”
The fear he’d built up in his mind was much worse than the reality.
Anxiety. There. It had a name. Rather than feeling the emotion accelerate and letting fear turn it into something completely different, he had a word. He could say, “I’m feeling anxious,” and we’d know what to do.
Words have such power.
As parents, we actively talk about exercise and eating well with our kids. We take them in for checkups and closely monitor their physical health and development. Why do we tend to treat mental health so differently?
I’m thrilled to see so many novels tackling mental illness in teens.
Together, I hope we’re helping to change the narrative, using fiction to spread the message that it’s okay to talk openly about what’s going on in your brain, it’s okay if your mind works differently, and it’s okay if you need help.
Teens are under more pressure to be “perfect” than ever before. Let’s tell them they’re perfect exactly the way they are.
Sam really struggles to fit in with her peers and particularly struggles with a group of fake friends that don’t honor the real rules of friendship. Did you relate to Sam’s struggle to fit in from when you were in high school?
I was lucky to have great friends in middle school and high school, but my family moved a lot, so I was constantly making new ones.
I was the new kid.
And I was awkward.
My friends never made me feel like the odd girl out, but I always felt like I was.
And yes, I’ve had those “mean girl” friends at a few points in my life, too. I definitely channeled a lot of my own challenges with female friendships into this story.
I love books with a twist, and you created a solid one for readers. Did you always know you were going to twist the plot this way or did it come to you as you wrote it?
I did. That was always a huge part of the story, from the original outline.
It was the trickiest aspect of the novel to write, but without question, my favorite.
In one line, you state, “Everyone’s got something. Some people are just better actors than others.” What is one thing you have acted your way out of in your own life that people might be surprised to know?
In my mid-20s, I landed my dream job with a fast-growing public relations firm. I climbed the ladder quickly, and before long I was managing some of our largest accounts. I loved my job, even though it was often stressful and overwhelming.
But there was one job requirement I couldn’t stand: Presenting. I hated speaking in front of people, with all eyes on me, and I did everything I could to avoid it.
I finally confided in one of the partners.
He reminded me that I was the expert. That I knew the client and the material better than anyone else. And then he smiled and said, “You know what they say, ‘Fake it till you make it.’”
I needed that. I made that my mantra.
Over the years, I’ve had this conversation with many business professionals, and more recently, with my author friends.
Some of the most polished presenters have admitted that they feel terrified before they step up on that stage. That it takes a big dose of courage and a lot of “faking it” to make it through.
The poem in Every Last Word called “As If” was inspired by this idea. Sometimes we need to act our way out of fear.
Oddly, now I’ve gone and put myself in a career where I present on bigger stages, to more people than I’ve ever addressed before, where the stakes are even higher. And yes, it’s still scary.
I always feel like I’m faking confidence when I fist step on stage and begin talking. But at some point, I begin to relax. I connect with the crowd and start to have fun, and pretty soon, I’m no longer faking it.
I’m still wondering when I’ll actually feel like I’ve made it.
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Have you read Every Last Word? We would love to hear what you thought of this YA Booktok Book?