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Her and Me and You by Lauren Strasnick (2010)

Later, we ate Adina’s dinner on the floor of the drained indoor pool. We sat on blankets over pool tiles (p 25).

Her: Adina. Anorexic. Moody. Possessive of her twin brother, Fred. Possibly in love with him.
Me: Alex. Her entrance into a new school becomes complicated when she is befriended by the Bishop twins. 
You: Fred. Friendly, enigmatic, and clearly protective of his sister. He befriends Alex.

Her: Evie, Alex’s best friend.
Me: Alex clearly has strong feelings for Evie. Their relationship changes once Alex moves away and Evie has a new boyfriend.
You: Ben, the boyfriend. What does he know about Evie? He dates her for a month and thinks he is in love with her. He can’t possibly know or love her as Alex does.

Her: Caroline. The other woman.
Me: Because of her father’s infidelity, Alex has moved with her mother to Meadow Marsh. Her world is turned up-side-down as everyone she has ever cared for changes.
You: Alex’s mother is a broken woman, unable to cope with the loss of a husband she stills loves, she turns to drinking. Or ‘you’ is Alex’s father. She’s angry with him, obviously, but she would have chosen to live with him if her mother didn’t need her so badly.

Alex beings spending more and more time with Fred as she attempts to make sense of her new life and redefine herself. But Adina runs hot and cold, sometimes undermining Alex and at times, oddly supportive or affectionate. Mix in Alex’s feelings for Evie and the bare-bones narration and you get a lot ambiguity.

Her and Me and You is a quick read, a novel that sucked me in immediately. It helps that Alex, the teen girl in transition, comes across as very real and understandable while also open to new experiences. She isn’t too judgemental but rather compassionate.

She’s at a point in her life when she is on her own for the first time, friendless, and capable of forging her own path. She also senses she must live else her best friend will move on without her (without the recklessness that so many YA characters rush headlong into). I appreciated that Alex had a strong moral compass and that she wore her emotions on her sleeve. She kind of reminds me of me at that age!

Adina is also one of the more realistically portrayed anorexic characters in YA lit. She’s not in your face (a la Wintergirls – bleck!), but through little things Alex notices, we see how she treats food. Her mental state is all over the place, but ultimately, self-serving behavior wins out.

A little gem of a book. Read other reviews: I was a Teenage Book Geek, The Compulsive Reader,  The Hub: YALSA.

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Tales of the Madman Underground by John Barnes (2009)

Marti was going to be a Madman, all right. I wondered what happened at home: did they hit her? Nobody sober after noon? Fights? A head of coke on the coffee table? Bedroom visits from her mother’s creepy boyfriend? Wall-to-wall crosses and nonstop prayers? All of those were certainly possible, based on the other Madmen.

I didn’t ask. I’d know soon enough. One problem with an underground, you always know too much about what’s buried (p 134).

Kyle has a plan and it’s call Operation Be Fucking Normal. After Kyle’s father died during his eighth grade year, his mother went crazy: drinking, smoking and slutting it up. Kyle has played the parent, working several jobs to pay the bills, cleaning the house, and taking care of his alcoholic wanna-be hippie mother. Under all that stress, he was bound to crack. Now the kids call him Psycho Shoemaker.

He then received his ticket to group therapy at school with all the other messed up kids. The group became known as the Madmen Underground. Kyle and his best friend, Paul are long time members. And the madmen stick together.

This book follows 6 days in Kyle’s life in September 1973. It is a Printz Honor Award winner and deservedly so. Exceptional writing. Pitch perfect. Once I got into this book, I couldn’t put it down. Sure, there’s a lot of crazy going on, your heart will break, your spirits will lift and you’ll want more. John Barnes is a man I’d like to meet. He transported me to another time and a different life and I was so invested!

ADDED SEPTEMBER 22, 2010

I did meet John Barnes at ALA. He signed a copy of his book for me on the event floor and spoke at the Printz Award Reception. I think he was a little overwhelmed by it all but I was so delighted to hear he felt rejuvenated by the award. He was coming out of a 10 year slump, of sorts, but plans to write more! I haven’t read any of his adult fiction, but I intend to pick up Directive 51, his new adult sci-fi book.

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SLOB by Ellen Potter

SLOBSLOB is the story of twelve-year-old Owen Birnbaum, the fattest kid in school. The reasons behind Owen’s eating disorder are revealed as Owen: attempts to build Nemesis (a device that will capture the events of the past), suffers through humiliation after humiliation at the hands of a cruel gym teacher, and as Owen tracks down a thief who takes his lunch time Oreo snack.

The prose often struck me as insightful. This passage, on page 29, jolted me:

Everyone thinks they know the fat kid. We’re so obvious. Our embarrassing secret is out there for everyone to see, spilling over our belts, flapping under our chins, stretching the seams of our jeans.

That doesn’t mean we don’t have other secrets that you can’t see.

I also enjoyed the occasional clever metaphor: “She may not be supersmart, but if you stick her in a crowd of people, she just pops, like a zebra-stripped jeep in a shopping mall parking lot” (p 80).

The ending kept me guessing. It’s not often you read about a boy with an eating disorder but this is an exception read. I’m sure it will be in the run for a Printz (though I’m pulling for The Devil’s Paintbox). I believe it also qualifies for the Newbery.

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Body Image Challenge Report and Contest

healthsymbolAs I posted on the Body Image Challange over at MyFavoriteAuthor, I pondered their parting question: What are you going to do next to keep the positive effect of the challange working for you in your life?

It can be tough but it’s absolutely necessary to address this question. I am in fairly good health now, but health is so flexible. Like my iron count. Some days, my iron count is fine and I can walk into a blood drive clinic and donate. The next week, my iron count can tank (opps, forgot to eat my greens) and I’m no good. A health body is a lifestyle commitment.

The Body Image Challange tackles an important issue: feeling good about yourself. But I don’t believe it’s enough just to feel good about yourself. Certainly, don’t allow others to dictate whether you feel beautiful, fat or thin, etc. Embrace yourself!

That being said, it does you no good to love yourself as you devour a Sara Lee pie. In addition to feeling positively about your body image, you must maintain a healthy body. Does this mean you need to be 5’4” with a size 4 waist and B-cup boobs? No! Does this mean you need to eat nutritiously (and this includes a moderate amount of sweets) and exercise at least 30 minutes, 3 times a week? Absolutely. Don’t just feel good mentally, feel good physically.

How do I plan to maintain my healthy body and body image?

vballFirst, eat moderately – the ‘good’ and ‘bad.’ Continue to exercise. Whether it’s playing some volleyball (fun exercise), running (hard but it relieves so much mental stress), or just enjoying a stroll on the beach (do you know how hard it is to walk in sand?!), get that heart pumping.

Secondly, surround yourself with supportive people. My coworkers are fabulous people to be around on a day to day basis. Between the vegan, the diabetic and the gluten-free eater, I’m constantly trying new, healthy foods! My family members are incredibly supportive. When my sister suffered from depression and bulima, my family stepped it up and she is now a healthy adult.

Finally, just remember what it feels like when you finish that run, or spike a ball, or dive into the surf. It’s fun, healthy and you walk away feeling great (and feeling a lot less guilty about that banana/peanut/hotfudge vanilla sundae).

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Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson (2009)


This is a review of the ARC copy of Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson.

*** This review contains SPOILERS! ***
[IPDATED: 3/23/2009]

I shouldn’t. I can’t. I don’t deserve it. I’m a fat load and I disgust myself. I take up too much space already. I am an ugly, nasty hypocrite. I am trouble. I am a waste.
I want to go to sleep, but I don’t want to die. I want to eat like a normal person eats, but I need to see my bones or I will hate myself even more and I might cut out my heart or take every pill that was ever made (p 202-03).

Wintergirls rambles on like this most of the time. Readers are stuck in the first-person narrative mush that is Lia’s consciousness. The style itself is choppy; trying too hard (where the PR people got “lyrical and evocative prose” is a mystery to me). It dragged.

Lia is a senior and the skinniest girl in her high school. If you ask her, she would say she is thin-framed. She is actually anorexic. If you asked her about it, she would ask you why your eyes don’t work. She’d say she is clothed in fat.

The book begins with Lia’s childhood best friend, Cassie, found dead in a motel room. Lia’s hallucinations have her thinking Cassie is haunting her. We begin to understand why Lia is anorexic but by the time it is explained, I no longer care, because whatever the reason was… it’s no longer relevant.

That was the summer I finally grew, after years of being smaller than everyone. Puberty stretched me on the rack until me arms and legs popped out their sockets and my neck almost snapped. This new body smelled damp. The butt jiggled, the thighs looked a mile wide in tights, and a soft double chin bubbled up. My ballet teacher pinched the extra inches, took away my solo, and told me to stop eating maple-walnut ice cream. I went from being the elegant swan to the ugly duckling that couldn’t walk without tripping over her own feet (p 165).

Lia isn’t interested in boys (though I guessed she might be interested in girls and that played out) or ballet or sports. Just knitting and reading but those felt artificial to me.

This book has none of the subtleties of Speak. Lia name-drops so many different authors (Gaiman, Tolkien, Pierce, Yolen) that I’m not sure it’s Lia talking but rather the author.

I found the book tedious; too many adjectives (“If you catch an adjective, kill it.” Mark Twain).  And it didn’t add up. After speaking with a girl who had been anorexic for years, I was able to put my finger on it:

What rang true:

  • Lia’s obsession with the scale. It’s always about the number.
  • Lia’s enjoyment in cooking and watching others eat.
  • Cassie’s experience (though limited stage time) as a bulimic

What didn’t work:

  • Lia’s empty personality. She is her anorexia. And nothing more (Anorexia is usually a symptom of something else. In this case, Lia is a Peter Pan figure who can’t accept the changes adolescence brings.) She did nothing. And yet Cassie was extremely active. Lia was a poor choice for…
  • The Narrator. Her mind was mush. Her thoughts needlessly repetitive. She may read to escape but she obviously doesn’t glean any wisdom from her readings (yet Gaiman is brilliant?  To me, yes. But to a schizo-like Lia?).
  • Lia wonders why everyone’s eyes are broken (she’s obviously fat!) and yet she talks about exposing her skeleton… so does she is think she fat unless her insides are out?

Ms. Yingling Reads also commented on the language: “The poetic language seemed out of sorts with the topic, somehow.” Though her review overall was favorable.

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Sweethearts by Sara Zarr (2008)

There are moments when I really miss Teen Librarianship. Reading Sweethearts was one of those moments. It’s a book I would have loved to booktalk. And I know it would go out. The cover alone sells the book. I still can’t look at it without the desire to eat it… my boyfriend even tried to grab the cookie off the book as it rested on the night stand one hazy morning!

Zarr, like Dessen in Just Listen, captures the female obsession/depression/anxiety related to all things food and social acceptance: the need for sweets and more sweets and the pressure to be attractive, thin. It is very well written but ultimately, I found Deanna’s story (Story of a Girl) more compelling. But this is a book whose themes of memory and resilience will stick with you long after you’ve finished reading.