Book Review: When I See Blue by Lily Bailey

Title: When I See Blue

Author: Lily Bailey

Genre: Middle Grade Realistic Fiction

Number of Pages: 352

Rating: A

Recommended?: Yes

Because We Are Bad is one of my favorite memoirs, so I was really excited when I found out Lily Bailey had written a middle grade novel. It did not disappoint! I have severe OCD and I find good representation really hard to come by. Most books have really stereotypical OCD (like washing hands and checking locks) that, while a harrowing reality for some people, I can’t relate to at all. This can be handled fairly well or as a total cliche of how people with the condition ‘should’ act.

Others use OCD as a plot device or something mostly inconsequential that makes a character ‘quirky’ or slightly troubled, without showing how the illness almost completely devours the lives of many sufferers. This is a book all people with OCD and their family members should read, whether they’re middle grade-age or not.

Ben is twelve. He’s starting at a new school and comes from a dysfunctional family, with a frequently absent father, an alcoholic mother, and an angry, resentful brother. Ben is a lonely, awkward boy who performs thousands of compulsions a day to prevent bad things from happening. His daily life is extremely limited by his undiagnosed mental illness, and he avoids certain colors (like red and blue) that have bad connotations for him.

Somehow his mom thinks his behavior is a personality quirk and regularly obliges it. When Ben meets his new classmate April, he has his first real friendship, even when his dad leaves and things at home get worse. April is quirky and strong-willed and is being bullied by some of the other girls at school, which Ben isn’t aware of because he’s too wrapped up in his own problems.

Ben seemed a little young for a twelve-year-old, without a very clear distinction between fantasy and reality. The confrontation between him and April seemed a little forced and I was actually pretty angry at her for going off on him about something he had no control over, but it started to make more sense as the book went on.

Ben’s OCD works quite a bit differently from how I experience the condition, but the author did a terrific job of illustrating how debilitating it is for sufferers and their families. I felt really bad for Ben’s mom, even though she was pretty much failing as a parent. I could tell she really did love him, and I liked that she wasn’t a one-dimensional ‘bad parent’ character.

She had an illness too and the author conveyed the uncertainty of the family’s future while still offering hope. I was 100% rooting for Ben throughout the novel and I’d like to see a continuation with of his story, even if he appears as a minor character in another middle grade book. A story with April as the main character might also be interesting.

I will read anything this author writes, whether she focuses on OCD as her subject or eventually branches out with her subject matter in her fiction. This is the kind of book that reminds me why I still read middle grade at twenty-eight.


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