reviews and blurbs

From Publisher’s Weekly

Growing up in the 1970s with an anxiety disorder that was only later diagnosed as obsessive compulsive lent a strange, disquieting edge to San Francisco author Foust’s childhood, as she re-creates it in this moving memoir. Chapters proceed through Foust’s childhood chronologically, from age eight, when her parents broke up and she moved with her mother, older brother, and sister into a South San Jose (Bay area) apartment complex, and she could indulge her microbe fears and hypochondria. As a child Foust could not master the intractability of numbers, but excelled in spelling and English; she lied frequently, insisted on systematic ways of organizing her things, and had morbid concerns about safety and hygiene. Inexplicable actions, such as locking her best friend in a hot car, then running away, prompted visits to psychologists, who first diagnosed Foust as schizophrenic; later in high school she found comfort in NyQuil and antihistamines, coming gradually to the realization that the compulsions waxed and waned depending on levels of stress. Foust pokes fun at her own sense of self-pity and describes the lack of empathy in others, giving readers an intimate look at OCD from the inside.

“Traci Foust’s writing is funny, frenetic, and painfully honest as she reveals the multi-faceted layers of a person with OCD.  Anyone who deals with this condition will find themselves in familiar territory, and will ultimately emerge with a whole new understanding of what it really means to be “normal.”

Rachel Simon, award-winning and national bestselling author of Riding the Bus with my Sister; Building a Home with my Husband, etc.

From San Francisco Book Review

Be prepared to jump in the Way-Back Time Machine as you hunker down to read Traci (with an “i”) Foust’s Nowhere Near Normal, because regardless of how you remember living through the 70s and 80s, you will love how Foust has tapped into product references, which will undoubtedly have you reaching for your Smartphone so you can Google items she recalls in her biography. I found myself looking on eBay for the Speak ‘n Spell I fondly remembered from my childhood just so I could remember what it looked like.

“Ladies and gentlemen.. please give it up for my mom’s eyebrows”

But, Nowhere Near Normal isn’t necessarily a biography reminiscing about things from way-back when, although Foust does have a knack for pulling amazingly detailed memories about her childhood. It’s more about her journey with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD). The story begins when she is eight years old, and ends with Foust as a twenty-year-old, embarking on a new journey, which left me screaming for a sequel! As a mother of two (now) young-adult children who have had to manage varying degrees of OCD, it was refreshing to not feel so alone. I found Traci’s book inspirational “from the outside looking in,” and also found myself connecting with her mother and family members, who had the daunting task of living with a child who has OCD. I especially related to how Foust hid so many of her obsessions from those around her, and similarly, how her mother hid her therapy from Traci’s father—because it would mean that we weren’t parenting correctly. Thank you, Traci, for giving us this peek into your childhood and how you manage to live with OCD. Refreshingly entertaining and informative!

Reviewed by Heidi Komlofske on Feb 22nd, 2012

“Traci Foust writes with amazing humor and sensitivity about deeply personal tragedies. You will get sucked in, and won’t want to get out.”

Valerie Frankel, author of Thin is the New Happy; It’s Hard Not to Hate You, etc.

From San Diego Union Tribune

The book opens with the breakup of 7-year-old Traci Foust’s family. Her mother (who has a married boyfriend) leaves her dad to move into an apartment across town in San Jose with the girl and her older brother and sister.

The child’s biggest worry (aside from wondering if she can still use the neighborhood pool now that she is no longer part of the neighborhood) is whether she forgot to cover the bologna and probably, actually most likely, poisoned her entire family. From there, she ricochets from one crisis to the next — making sure her Catholic saint statues point north, scrubbing her hands with bleach to eradicate germs, being unable to eat in certain restaurants as she fears the possibility of deadly bacteria on her food. Those around her are frustrated with her behavior but seemingly unsuspecting of the giant OCD elephant in the room.

“My first electric typewriter. Writing was the only time I felt like a ‘regular’ person”

Foust can’t sleep and roams the apartment at night, licking (yes, licking) the locks on all the doors and windows to keep her family safe. She locks her one and only friend in a hot car because her mother praises the girl’s spelling prowess and it upsets Traci’s carefully constructed universe. She is a failure at math because certain numbers are disturbing, menacing even, and once she encounters a bad number, she cannot concentrate.

According to experts, people with obsessive- compulsive disorder have recurring rituals they cannot control — such as hand washing or cleaning or counting — and not performing these tasks increases anxiety. Foust, who now lives in San Diego County, has a classic case as the mental illness usually begins in childhood or adolescence.

It’s not until the author is a preteen that her mom recommends counseling and not until a few years later that she learns of the OCD diagnosis. Medication — some self-administered like NyQuil — seems to help, but always the demons come knocking. Foust finds some relief working in her grandmother’s senior care facility. As a teen, she runs away to live with strangers in the mistaken hope that being somewhere else will make her someone else.

The story follows Foust through about age 20, after her mother dies and she is trying to live on her own with no job and not much prospect of getting one. Through it all, Foust injects her story with just the right amount of humor and sass to keep the reader interested.

Brian, Kim, Theresa and me. In the ’70s everything was kind of orange.

One scene, though, was jarring, and it seems strange that Foust would include it in what was an otherwise nearly flawlessly told tale. She and her older brother are at dinner with her dad and his girlfriend of the moment. A huge bug flies out of her father’s hair, and this gives Foust the courage to ask him to join her in a camp out for Indian princesses and their fathers. (One explanation might be she realizes other people aren’t perfect either.)

The author can be forgiven this one awkward segue as the rest of her story is told in brilliant and flowing prose. The book leaves the reader thirsting for more — more about the relationship with her sister, Kim, who is nine years older and often stepped in as a surrogate mom as Foust’s single mother had to work outside the home; more about her older brother, who at times seems her closest ally, but who often is part of the background chorus; more about her best friend, “Goat,” a budding graffiti artist who might be the one to help her be her best self.

“Nowhere Near Normal” is nowhere near an all-encompassing book about OCD, but that in itself is the charm of the story. It is one girl/woman’s tale of a sometimes frightening, always absorbing journey into the heart of her own very real darkness.

Susan Gembrowski is a San Diego writer.

“The only problem with Traci Foust’s darkly funny, bitingly honest essays…is that she’s going to get you to thinking that you, too, have OCD. But you won’t be upset because it will somehow explain everything that has ever gone wrong in your life. In fact, you will feel the way a great book should make you feel: much less alone.”

Cynthia Kaplan, New York Times bestselling author of Why I’m Like This

From NPR’s Sarah Handel

I read this book last weekend. First, this is awesome because I was home this weekend, not traveling (a rarity), and I read an entire book. It’s not hard for me to do, in terms of words and page counts, but I’m just never home for a full weekend, with the time to do so. But even on weekends when I do have the time to take a book from cover to cover, I often don’t. Sometimes a book is just a bummer, and finishing it is too much like work.

Traci Foust at age eight “I cut and picked at myself and forced my cat to scratch me until I was covered in sores”

This is not that book. I have always had a few OCD-ish tendencies, which made Foust’s memoir appeal to me when I pulled it from its mailer envelope at work. But she’s the real deal, and her writing captures that truth with such twisty-turny clarity (it sounds impossible, but in OCD land, it definitely isn’t) that you zip right through the pages. It’s not about watching a freak show, though there are moments that made me gasp with disbelief. It’s about understanding how a child’s mind can go so awry, how thoughts you know aren’t normal — however loaded that word may be — can take over when your brain’s chemistry isn’t enough to correct them.

There’s no happy ending, but Foust impressed me profoundly. She writes beautifully, the kind of prose that you tear through because it’s so seamless, till that one perfect turn of phrase catches you, nearly breathless. Her ability to recall her past is impressive (my own memories of life as say, a second-grader, are shadowy at best). The way she tells the sometimes-horrific stories of her childhood and adolescence is brutal, but you end up believing the stories are both accurate, and important. Recommended.

“I’m a huge fan of Traci Foust and of this book. It took me forever to read it, because I would catch myself savoring the details. I would read a page and want to spend a day thinking about it. Nowhere Near Normal is one of the most intensely moving memoirs I’ve ever read, unflinching in its self-observations, devastating in parts, but also funny in between the heartbreaks, which seem to come on every page. It’s one of the most honest books I’ve ever read, and its a work of true and profound genius.”

Andrew Ervin, author of Extraordinary Renditions

From San Diego City Beat Magazine

Three books and three families even more screwed up than yours

By Jim Ruland

“Parents,” an old roommate of mine said after an exasperating phone conversation with his mother. “Don’t ever have them.” The joke still resonates because it captures the absurdity of family drama: The only way to escape it is to avoid being born. One of the comforts of literature, however, is to remind us that no matter how great our suffering might be, there are those who have it much, much worse.

That’s the impression one gets reading Nowhere Near Normal, Traci Foust’s memoir about growing up with obsessive-compulsive disorder. Chief among Foust’s compulsions was a peculiar kind of counting where the consequences of ignoring her impulses overshadowed reason.

For instance, if she failed to listen for the sound of gas escaping the stovetop burners after she turned them off, she would cause the gruesome death of her entire family. In Foust’s imagination, “what if” became “they’re all gonna die.”

That’s a lot of baggage for a kid to deal with under normal circumstances, but this is a girl who grew up in a tiny apartment with her older sister, domineering single mother and grandmother—none of whom understood what’s wrong with Traci.

Though Foust’s project feels like it ought to be rooted in the realism of daytime television, it’s so skillfully written it reads like a modernist novel. Foust grew up in Northern California and lives in San Diego, but it’s the psychological landscape that resonates.

“Traci Foust is a personable and funny writer who you just know from reading her story would be really fun to hang out with. She is one of those rare writers who uses humor to get closer to the truths of her experience—which is in reality not very funny at all. She writes about how she’s different, but she’s so accessible that you see yourself in her again and again.”

Kerry Cohen, author of Loose Girl and Easy

From Seattlest.Com

While the majority of California youth were skipping rope and collecting beetles, Traci Foust was scrubbing her hands with Ajax until her skin peeled off, and locking her best friend in a sweltering car, wondering if maybe she would kill her. Yes, these activities are…different, but that is the beauty of Foust’s memoir, Nowhere Near Normal, its utterly distinctive take on childhood. For any of us who have ever turned the car around on the way to work because we’re positive the stove could miraculously have turned itself on (ahem, just once or twice), learning about a girl’s struggle growing up with severe OCD is captivating. The story unfolds with the Foust parents divorcing—the family splitting apart into two locations, and Traci really beginning to struggle with the compulsions and anxieties that make her “abnormal” and drive her family insane. Who needs to unplug all of the appliances every night and lick the electrical sockets? Traci does, because otherwise her family may burn to death in their beds. This frank, strange, and unapologetic logic is what makes Traci a likable (though complicated) narrator. The story leads us through her increasingly complex relationships with her mother and sister, and through the haze of their cigarette smoke we see how lonely it is to be such a different kind of girl. The glance at various approaches to child psychology also intrigues—especially when seeing which professional methods actually have any affect on Traci’s recovery.

” The ‘Alex’ year. Things went from bad to worse just after this picture was taken”

As Traci continues to grow up the story electrifies with things at a breaking point with her newly, and zealously, religious mother—culminating in Traci’s impromptu trip to Santa Cruz, a land of sex, drugs, and poetry. Though she eventually returns home, Traci still feels lost, and when Part Three of the memoir opens with news of her mother’s death (a subject touched upon much too briefly)…things seems bleak. The lack of emphasis on her family connectivity towards the end of the book is my only complaint—it feels a little insufficient in contrast to the palpable emotions early on.

But Nowhere Near Normal does inspire in the end, with a conclusion as distinctive as the entertaining and hilarious voice that has been leading us on this trip. Foust has a knack for making you love her, even if her character isn’t always likeable, and even a description of how her great-grandmother tried to burn her own eyeballs with matches is somehow lyrical.

As Edgar Allen Poe (her favorite poet growing up) once wrote, “From childhood’s hour I have not been as others were; I have not seen as others saw; I could not bring my passions from a common spring. From the same source I have not taken my sorrow; I could not awaken my heart to joy at the same tone; And all I loved, I loved alone.”

And really, I couldn’t sum it up any better.

 “If Mary Karr and Gregg Araki had a Scorpio love child, her name would be Traci Foust.  Her writing is both haunting and hilarious — take this ride, it’s more than worth it.”       

— Joshua Lyon, author of Pillhead

From BOOM Magazine

Reviewed by Barbara Petty

Mental illness is still profoundly misunderstood. In spite of medical research that shows that this condition, by and large, is very much treatable with medication and therapy, it is still maligned.

I know. My sister was psychotic and suffered from schizophrenia and manic depression for the past three years of her life. Fear and misunderstanding practically paralyzed my family, and as a result, Linda did not receive the appropriate observation and long-term treatment she needed.

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), although not as debilitating as schizophrenia, was misdiagnosed for years, and sufferers were stereotyped as “retarded” or “special needs” individuals. Such is the case of our author.

As defined by The Mayo Clinic website:

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is an anxiety disorder characterized by unreasonable thoughts and fears (obsessions) that lead you to do repetitive behaviors (compulsions). With obsessive-compulsive disorder, you may realize that your obsessions aren’t reasonable, and you may try to ignore them or stop them. But that only increases your distress and anxiety. Ultimately, you feel driven to perform compulsive acts in an effort to ease your stressful feelings.

Obsessive-compulsive disorder often centers around themes, such as a fear of getting contaminated by germs. To ease your contamination fears, you may compulsively wash your hands until they’re sore and chapped. Despite your efforts, thoughts of obsessive-compulsive behavior keep coming back. This leads to more ritualistic behavior — and a vicious cycle that’s characteristic of OCD.

“The playground where I would meet Misty and begin a long road to figuring out what was ‘wrong’ with me”

What is so unique, fascinating, and on occasion funny, about Nowhere Near Normal is that the author, Traci Foust, takes us inside the mind of an OCD sufferer. How she perceives her anxieties – and acts on them – is described in exacting detail. Here is an excerpt from the book when the mother informs seven-year-old Traci and her two siblings that they are moving out of the “Dad’s” house:

“There would be no more of my dad in a tizzy if I wanted to spray the doorknobs with Lysol and no more of him saying I wasn’t talking like a person who is right should be talking just because I tried to educate him on lurking microbes when I told him about a movie we watched in health class on the importance of hand washing and hygienic food storage, and how bathroom germs can sometimes turn into a squiggly cartoon man in a derby hat and walks with a briefcase right into your nose, where he will later decide to move into your lungs, where he will later laugh heartily and give a thumbs-up while you lie in a hospital bed with an expression that is also squiggly to indicate you are feverish/confused/guilty about not wrapping up the bologna.”

See what I mean?

No one in Traci’s family had any idea how to deal with her, but finally out of desperation her mother takes her to a counselor who beings to help Traci process her feelings with Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). Unfortunately the introduction of medications (anti-depressants, anti-anxiety drugs) was not included in the therapy until Traci was in her late teens. She, however, learned to self medicate with Nyquil, Benadryl and vodka for years prior to that. She also nearly killed a friend, became a run-away and ended up in a poetry-hippy community in Northern California, and struggled with relationships… male and female.

Although footnoted with reference material and a Q&A section, the book reads more like a novel/biography, and I found it difficult to put down. Laypeople as well as professional therapists would do well to read Nowhere Near Normal to experience OCD from the outside-in. There is no cure for OCD, only management of the symptoms. There is no fairy-tale happy ending here either, but there is some resolution, understanding, and a willingness to work on a lifelong illness.

From Reviews From a Serial Reader.Com

There are times in the reading of this book hat I had to walk away, pause to remind myself that I was not a part of her obsessions, but that I was an outsider, looking in – this is how real this  book seems for readers. When Foust hid in the bathroom to brush her teeth repeatedly with bleach, I felt as though I was there with her, burying the shame of the need to eradicate any possibility of germs existing in her world. When she traipsed through the house at all hours of the morning while the world was asleep, unplugging appliances because she had convinced herself that if she didn’t, bad things would undoubtedly happen to her, her family, everyone she loved, I too traipsed after her, worrying for her, with her. And I think that this is part of what Foust is trying to convey in this account:  ”Later still would come the gratitude toward all the secret hardships a parent must endure and the steadfast patience required to raise a difficult child.”


3 Responses to “reviews and blurbs”

  1. ocdtalk October 23, 2011 at 2:28 am #

    I’m reading “Nowhere Near Normal” now and already love it as much as the reviewers. While it is true that OCD is not curable, it is also true that this disorder, no matter how severe, is treatable. There is hope for all OCD sufferers, and Exposure Response Prevention Therapy is the therapy of choice.

  2. Jennifer Leona Marlow Goble December 12, 2011 at 10:15 am #

    I have read The Memior and am astonished at how Traci Foust can tell such a true and humbling experiece and still make me laugh out loud! She is an amazing writer! I have had ALL of my friends and family read her book, and they too are very impressed. Let me tell you why this book could change someones life, I was diagnosed at 13 with OCD and have struggled with it for years! I always thought I was A “Hard Nut To Crack” and I would literally make myself believe that I was a “bad” person or “wierd” but, ever since I read this Book, dealing with the fact that I have OCD and, that it’s something I have to accept, I have accepted it 100% and for that alone I thank her! I would like to call this book my 4th dose of medication! (ha Ha) because reading her story was Life Changing!


  1. Weekend Journal: Overcoming OCD, Solutions To Infertility - November 27, 2011

    […] week, Traci Foust, author of Nowhere Near Normal, tells us about her book and her lifelong struggle with […]

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