Review: Don’t Touch by Rachel M. Wilson

Comments: 4



Thirty minutes into reading Don’t Touch, I went to look up the author’s bio and confirm what I already suspected: like me, Rachel M. Wilson has Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.

I’m not saying it’s impossible to write well about a disability if you don’t have it. I certainly hope not; I write characters with disabilities I don’t have. But there was something in this story—some intimate, intangible Knowing—that made me believe, This author has been here. This author has walked in these shoes.

DON'T TOUCH at GoodreadsThe story follows Caddie, a freshman at Birmingham Arts Academy who dreams of being an actress. Years ago, her severe OCD put her in therapy; she clings to the narrative that she’s better now, even as her parents’ failing marriage drives her deep into obsessive thought and compulsive behavior. Her primary compulsion is avoiding touch: If she doesn’t touch anyone’s skin, maybe her distant father will come back home. Caddie knows this likely isn’t logical behavior, but she can’t stop—even as it rips away at her life, damaging her rekindled friendship with former best friend Mandy, her maybe-romance with magnetic Peter, and her chance at playing the dream role of Ophelia.

Despite the many differences between my life and Caddie’s, the general pattern of her illness—early onset, temporary improvement, and teenage relapse—was eerily like mine. And as someone who has lived with active OCD for most of my life, I can say that this book’s portrayal of the illness rang incredibly true. Caddie’s obsessive fears and intense anxiety attacks are so vivid that I often had to put the book down and take a break to let my own echoes of sympathetic panic ebb away. And I loved the main character: Despite her constant, exhausting background roar of fear, Caddie is empathetic, a good listener and good friend when she isn’t in the grip of panic. Her passion for acting, even when it conflicts with her severe anxiety, permeates nearly every page. She is a complex, well-drawn character, far more than just “a girl with OCD”—but as her illness worsens, it tangles into everything she does, affecting all her decisions. My anxiety did that, left untreated. It narrowed the world and it ate at the sky until I had fewer and fewer options left.

Caddie obsesses over feeling safe, which has little to do with being objectively safe—the idea of touching another person’s skin sends her into complete panic, while certain kinds of actual physical danger might evoke no such response. She hides her compulsions from friends and family, weaving a series of lies and half-truths, building herself a quirky persona to cover the fear. She sometimes hurts the people closest to her, shoving them away when they try to help, pushing harder the closer they get. All these things were like seeing pieces of my own history, set down on a page in black and white.

I live in a world where my friends laughingly say they’re “so OCD” when they line up objects neatly on their shelves. I live in a world where popular media often presents superficial “OCD” characters who count things, worry about germs, memorize details as an almost-superpower, have “quirks” we’re all supposed to find funny, and rarely get to be real people whose minds are collapsing under the weight of crippling anxiety. Here, finally, is a book I can give to friends and family and say: “If you want a glimpse of what it’s actually like inside my head, read this.”

About Author

Amalie Greenway

Originally from the exact center of nowhere in Texas, Amalie Greenway has moved thirteen times in the past seven years, accompanied by OCD (acquired at age 8) and severe migraines (age 4). She has settled—for now—in the chilly Midwest, where she grumbles about the cold and works as a nanny to several wonderful little girls, while writing and revising novels in her “free time.”



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  2. Princess Powerful on

    I know this is old, and likely no one will read this, but I wanted to leave something here.

    This review saved my life.

    In eighth grade, I was suffering from undiagnosed OCD. I was unable to concentrate or do anything, repeating a phrase in my head constantly to drown out the obsessions. I thought that I was trapped, that there was no explanation, that I had simply messed up my own head and there was nothing I could do about it. I wanted to die, but was convinced that upon dying I would head straight to hell (another obsession). I was barely hanging on, hating every second of it.

    I was reading this blog and opened up this article for whatever reason–perhaps completionism. Something in this rang true to me, some short line that was close enough to my experience to make me look it up and discover that there was a name for what was wrong with me. I found an explanation and hope. I found a vocabulary to explain to my parents how I needed help when I finally built up the courage to tell them about it a month later. I found a belief that I could get better, relief from the self-hatred of believing it was all my fault.

    It’s been nearly 4 years since I read this. I’m about to turn 18. Without this review, I honestly don’t know if I’d still be here right now.

    Thank you for this. I know that helping suicidal teenagers through OCD awareness was likely not one of your goals for this piece, but you did nonetheless.