OCD, The Dude, and Me is one of those wonderful stories that manages to be amusing, heartwarming, sad, and inspiring all at the same time. Despite being a quick read, it leaves you feeling as if a better world is possible for anyone who seeks it.
The protagonist in this novel is Danielle Levine, a slightly overweight redhead battling Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and ultra-low self-esteem. She’s got endless idiosyncrasies, such as a penchant for wearing unusual hats – berets, fedoras, straw hats, even bonnets – and a tendency to rearrange her snow globe collection on a regular basis.
Danielle suffers from OCD anxiety attacks, frequently has to hide under piles of laundry in her room in order to cope with life, and changes into combat boots and her conductor hat as necessary in order to feel more in control. She’s a bit of a mess, socially awkward and very aware of this.
Danielle’s dysfunction is a source of amusement and sadness throughout the book. There are scenes where her quirkiness made me laugh, like when she decides to write a mental health missive to the imaginary Commitment Hearing Committee “so they know what was the beginning of the end of any piece of sanity I had left in high school.” However, there are also scenes where the severity of her OCD made me pity her, like when she’s on a trip with her classmates and becomes so distraught that she has to lock herself in a bathroom and put different hats on her head in a certain order while singing the entire album of her favorite band. In this case, it isn’t comical. It’s heartbreaking, because you know she has serious obstacles to overcome
Needless to say, Danielle’s life and circumstances give her a very distinct worldview, and a distinct voice to go with it. This voice comes through loud and clear in the book, which is written in the form of letters, notes, school writing assignments, and journal entries. They give you a strong sense of how hilarious and honest and neurotic Danielle is, all at once. For example, there’s a section where Danielle writes about hoping for “things that might help me become a more interesting person. Although, I think by some accounts I may already be interesting but in a bubonic plague kind of way. The bubonic plague is very interesting.”
At first I couldn’t understand why Danielle hated herself and had so many self-esteem issues. I was initially convinced that all of her problems were in her head and that her life couldn’t be as bad as she was making it seem. Eventually, though, it became clear that Danielle is struggling with real problems, and that high school truly is miserable for her. It’s hard enough being picked on and singled out, but it is especially difficult when you are already dealing with other significant issues, such as a learning disability, feelings of inadequacy, and traumatic experiences from your past.
Teachers, family, and psychologists push Danielle to try new things, open herself up to new experiences, and put herself out there; in other words, they want her to not be afraid to live life and love herself as she is. Vaughn does a great job of showing Danielle’s journey to self-acceptance and her development of the courage necessary to live a normal life in spite of her OCD. I highly recommend this book.