Publishing Info: August 6, 2013 by Random House Publishing Group
Genres: Contemporary, Psych/Mental Health, Young Adult
Find it on the web: Buy from Amazon // GoodreadsDate Completed: July 22, 2012
Related Posts: Second Star
She feels like a creature out of a fairy tale; a girl who discovers that her bones are really made out of stone, that her skin is really as thin as glass, that her hair is brittle as straw, that her tears have dried up so that she cries only salt. Maybe that’s why it doesn’t hurt when she presses hard enough to begin bleeding: it doesn’t hurt, because she’s not real anymore.
Sethie Weiss is hungry, a mean, angry kind of hunger that feels like a piece of glass in her belly. She’s managed to get down to 111 pounds and knows that with a little more hard work—a few more meals skipped, a few more snacks vomited away—she can force the number on the scale even lower. She will work on her body the same way she worked to get her perfect grades, to finish her college applications early, to get her first kiss from Shaw, the boy she loves, the boy who isn’t quite her boyfriend.
Sethie will not allow herself one slip, not one bad day, not one break in concentration. Her body is there for her to work on when everything and everyone else—her best friend, her schoolwork, and Shaw—are gone.
Breaking It Down Further: The pressure is getting to Sethie. The skinny girls at her school, treading carefully around her boyfriend (boyfriend?) Shaw, and her mom who has always been skinny. She’s minimlalized her food intake and has discovered how to force herself to throw up to purge the food she’s already eaten. She’s determined to stick close to her ideal weight, a thought that takes control of her everyday life. But that’s not Sethie’s main focus. She’s having fun being a teenager – meeting new friends, hanging out with her boyfriend Shaw, and going to school like a regular girl. She doesn’t realize just how seriously her eating issues are affecting her life.
Alyssa Sheinmel gives us an extremely realistic story of a girl already in the midst of struggling with her body image and is progressing further into the realm of eating disorders. In a lot of ways, I really connected with the book in the fact that this was an extremely relevant issue in my teen years and I saw so many parallels between people in my life in high school and Sethie in Sheinmel’s story. Unfortunately it really is a big issue – one I personally think is only getting worse amongst young girls and teens – and I really liked how the book posed an interesting question that I began wondering as I was reading. Sethie’s of average height (I think she was somewhere between 5’4″ and 5’6″? Can’t exactly remember) and her ideal weight is 111 lbs. She’s constantly starving herself to get there, but she is still eating. Small portions here and there, every once in a while a full meal when she has to — And I began to wonder, at what point do we call this anorexia? At what point is it a full on diagnosed eating disorder? Even though she’s not so skinny that it’s dangerous to her health and it hasn’t started to affect other physical aspects of her body, is that behavior enough to warrant the title of an eating disorder?
As I kept reading, it’s clear that even though people may not notice the physical signs as much, Sethie is doing her body major harm by starving herself and even worse, we start to see her mental state deteriorating. The more pressure she puts on herself to not eat, stay skinny, lose even more weight, the more we see the stress taking its toll on her. She stops caring about her once good grades. She starts to purge the food she just ate, even if only a little. She stops communicating with her mother, who is her only parent as a single mom. It’s affecting her friendships. She’s so focused on her eating habits that she doesn’t even realize the coldness and emotional gap that exists between her and her boyfriend Shaw.
Even though this was an extremely serious topic, I’m glad that we did come out with a lot of positive messages from the book. Sethie has to take a look back at herself and see what she’s doing. She has friends who are there to support her and help her when she’s struggling the most. There are some upsides to such a dark topic!
As far as the book itself goes and the styles, I really wasn’t thrilled with the use of the third person. As I was reading up on the book, I read that this was Alyssa Sheinmel’s first book in the third person and I really wondered why. To me, I think the first person — getting the story straight from Sethie’s head — would have been so much more effective and brought so much more emotion, personal struggle, turmoil, joy, fear, hope, etc into the book. Throughout the first half, I felt so disconnected from all of the characters, so I was very happy that in the second half, I finally started to make connections and they finally started to come to life instead of just being words on a page.
I think a big part of that “transformation” was the development of Janey’s character. Sethie meets Janey through her boyfriend/non-boyfriend Shaw and they spend most of their time at Janey’s because they spend so much time traveling internationally. At first I thought Janey was going to be a shallow character and a bad influence for Sethie, but the more we get to know about her, the more I began to like her and realize that she was just the friend Sethie needed at this point in her life. She was relaxed and mostly non-judgemental, but she was tough and able to see past the flimsy act that Sethie put on regarding her issues. I really think that Janey was one of my favorite characters and really pulled the whole story together for me. I also really liked the addition of Ben’s character, which I won’t say too much about so as not to cause any spoilers. He was another person who arrived in Sethie’s life at just the right time and had just the perfect demeanor to bring a really positive note to the book.
I really liked the way the book ended. That being said, I didn’t really really care for the beginning. I didn’t connect with any character or feel much emotion until halfway through. Up until then it just felt so impersonal, especially with the use of the third person.