REVIEW: ‘The Edge of Anything’ by Nora Shalaway Carpenter takes a delicate look at mental health


‘The Edge of Anything’ by Nora Shalaway Carpenter is a strong YA debut which takes an authentic and delicate look at very important topics.

From the first page of Nora Shalaway Carpenter’s Kirkus starred YA debut, The Edge of Anything, it’s evident that several big topics are going to be discussed. Drawing from personal experience, Carpenter has crafted an authentic and engaging story about friendship and the importance of talking about mental health. 

The blurb:

Len is a loner teen photographer haunted by a past that’s stagnated her work and left her terrified she’s losing her mind. Sage is a high school volleyball star desperate to find a way around her sudden medical disqualification. Both girls need college scholarships. After a chance encounter, the two develop an unlikely friendship that enables them to begin facing their inner demons.

But both Len and Sage are keeping secrets that, left hidden, could cost them everything, maybe even their lives.

Set in the North Carolina mountains, this dynamic #ownvoices novel explores grief, mental health, and the transformative power of friendship. 

From the beginning, the novel sets out what it intends to do, and as it progresses, it more than follows through. 

The Edge of Anything follows the unlikely friendship between Sage Zendasky, the star volleyball player undergoing a life-shattering revelation, and Len Madder, the social outcast grappling with issues she can’t quite understand. Both of the characters feel completely realised, owing to Nora Shalaway Carpenter drawing from her own experiences with mental health, and her dedicated research into the medical condition Sage faces. 

Taking the forefront of the novel are conversations about mental health, specifically about OCD. Often when you read stories featuring mental health issues it can feel like they’re shoe-horned in without any research or personal experience. With this book, both feel clear. Carpenter doesn’t shy away from pulling back the curtain to really emphasise the affect that OCD can have on not only those suffering, but on those close to them.

On a more technical side, the novel itself is written and structured wonderfully. Conversations about mental health could have overshadowed The Edge of Anything as a story, but Carpenter has beautifully balanced those conversations with an engaging tale which is about more than just the issues faced by the characters. 

Authentically woven throughout the novel we see themes of friendship, coping with grief and moving forward from life-changing tragedies.

From Sage’s desperation to hold onto the only future she’s ever planned for herself, to Len’s eagerness to earn a photography scholarship, the fact that these are two teens making their way through a difficult time in their lives is never lost in the shuffle.

In the growing push for books prominently featuring conversations about mental health over the past few years, we’ve seen novels such as Louise Gornall’s Under Rose-Tainted Skies, John Corey Whaley’s Highly Illogical Behaviour, and John Green’s Turtles All The Way Down. I’m quite confident in saying that The Edge of Anything joins the lineage of those books. It more than does its part to open up new discussions to be had, and to help move towards ending the stigma of mental health issues. 

The Edge of Anything is a very strong YA debut, and I personally can’t wait to see what Nora Shalaway Carpenter has to offer next.

Listen to our interview with Nora Shalaway Carpenter here. 

For anyone suffering from OCD, or any other mental health issues, or for anyone who wishes to learn more and be the help that someone else may need, below are some of the resources recommended by Nora Shalaway Carpenter:

A triumphant debut


+ Plot: Though there’s a focus on bigger conversations, the two main characters navigating transformative years is never lost in the shuffle. The story is engaging, and featuring the most intense game of volleyball I’ve ever read.

+ Characters: Taking the forefront, the two incredibly authentic main characters are well researched and open up hugely important discussions about mental health and friendships.

+ Writing: The Edge of Anything is a finely written debut with no real flaws in the writing style or structure.

+ Theme/Message: Nora Shalaway Carpenter has delicately and authentically woven themes of mental health, grief, and moving forward beyond tragedy throughout the novel in very impressive ways.

Michael is a graduate of the University of Stirling with a degree in English Studies. When he's not juggling reading four books at once, you'll probably find him exploring medieval castles around Scotland.

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