Destigmatizing Mental Illness: A Review of Don’t Touch

DONT-TOUCH-HC-1Cadence Finn has undergone many changes in her life—notably, her father leaving and starting a new school. She also has a lot to prove, because, in her father’s absence, she is pursuing her interest in theater in defiance of his demand that she focus on math and science. And Caddie does not deal well with pressure and change. Diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder in middle school, her debilitating symptoms have recurred. If someone touches her, it will mean the end of her family. She wears long sleeves even in late summer in Alabama, and adds gloves to her wardrobe. Her new school friends—including an old friend, Mandy, with whom she reconnects—think she is being dramatic; after all, she’s now in a specialized arts high school. But when an audition during a panic attack lands her the role of Ophelia in Hamlet, with a potential love interest playing the male lead, her ruses and defenses are seriously threatened. Years ago, the school’s award winning drama club lost the competition because an actor had an asthma attack, and Caddie worries that her fear of being touched, as well as her other anxieties, will doom the production and cause her to let all her new friends down.

Rachel Wilson’s personal experience with OCD and anxiety disorders shows through in her ability to create an authentic, complex character who is more than her diagnosis. Don’t Touch (HarperCollins, 2014) offers readers an inside look at high school theater that is free from all kinds of stereotypes—not only those having to do with Caddie’s anxieties. In fact, interesting, multi-dimensional, and, above all, kind secondary characters make this a compelling story that will appeal to a wide variety of teens. Although they vie for the same roles and feel disappointment or argue about how scenes should be portrayed, Caddie and her friends are real friends to each other, not “frenemies” whose success is built on someone else’s failure. With a father who has basically abandoned his family—and no amount of rituals or magical thinking on Caddie’s part will get him back—kind and accepting friends turn out to be her greatest strength and catalyst for change.

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