Publishers Weekly, Starred Review
Hesser's unusually polished debut novel brings a singularly compassionate wit to a singularly painful topic. Tara Sullivan does not know how or why she lost "possession" of her thoughts, but she can trace her terrible problem to her 11th year, when the rhyme "Step on a crack, break your mother's back!" begins to run insistently and ceaselessly through her head. Propelled by a series of irrational fears, Tara counts sidewalk cracks on her way to school then enacts other equally bizarre rituals (among them, praying aloud when anyone swears; kissing her fingers after touching the doorknob). Her strange behavior puzzles neighbors, alienates her friends and drives her mother into nearly murderous rages. Through Tara's first-person narrative, Hesser compellingly expresses both the anguish and the dark humor of the heroine's obsessive-compulsive disorder (identified near the end of the book, when she begins therapy). At times descriptions of her entrapment are so vivid and intense that readers may need to come up for air. But the lively characterizations (especially of Tara's closest friends and pugilistic younger sister) prevent the protagonist's psychological confinement from becoming claustrophobic to readers. Hesser's thoroughly credible narrative ("I have experienced some of the obsessions and compulsions I have written about," Hesser states in her acknowledgments), and fascinating story promote both an intellectual and emotional understanding of a treatable disease.
From Kirkus Reviews , May 1, 1998
With a trenchant portrait of Tara Sullivan from ages 1114, Hesser's first novel puts obsessive-compulsive disorder under the microscope. Troubled Tara is preoccupied with orderliness and impending disaster, and dedicates her attention to painstakingly trivial rules and rituals. She counts cracks in every sidewalk, worries that her mother's back will indeed be broken, lines up grains of rice on her plate, prays every time she hears a swear word, and ``kisses'' doorknobs in a ritual of her own invention. Her devotion to these activities leads to the exclusion of friends and the alienation of family. Incredibly, her parents allow her condition to drag on, undiagnosed, for years; when she does come under scrutiny, the various diagnoses are Attention Deficit Disorder, immaturity, borderline anorexia, anger issues. Tara's condition isn't easily conveyed: Readers may tire of her depressive, self-deprecating immersion in disorder, no matter how natural her perspective is to her illness: ``In a fetal position, I rocked myself like a sad baby in a cold white crib. I had no language to describe my pain. I had no company in my pain. I just had pain. Isolating, solitary pain. And loneliness. And humiliation.'' Understandably self-absorbed, Tara lapses into stilted, self-conscious moments that distance readers rather than elicit their compassion, e.g., ``After a few months, I got over my separation anxiety.'' Only a serendipitous meeting with fellow sufferer Sam promises a rescue for Tara in an otherwise onerous story. (Fiction. 13-15) -- Copyright ©1998, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.
In her first novel, Kissing Doorknobs, Terry Spencer Hesser has written an inspiring, often humorous novel about Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, a topic that merits discussion and compassion.Fourteen-year-old Tara Sullivan has always been a worrier. On the surface, she has been able to behave like a normal girl. But when she is 11 years old, she hears a phrase that changes her life: Step on a crack, break your mother's back. Now, everywhere she goes, Tara must count every crack in the sidewalk. If she gets interrupted or loses her place, she has to go home and start all over again. As she gets older, her "habits" don't get better--they change and increase. She has to arrange her meals, recite prayers, and chat with her dolls, over and over again.Tara does not know why she has these habits, she just knows that she has no choice: she has to complete the rituals. Then one day, before leaving the house, she finds herself kissing her fingertips and touching the doorknob . . . .
Terry Spencer Hesser is a screenwriter and a documentary filmmaker. Kissing Doorknobs is based on her personal experience with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.