CM . . . . Volume XVI Number 5. . . .October 2, 2009.
Toronto, ON: Second Story Press, 2009.
267 pp., pbk., $11.95.
Anorexia nerosa-Juvenile fiction.
Grades 7 and up / Ages 12 and up.
Review by Marsha Skrypuch.
Reviewed from Advance Reading Copy.
I can’t believe it! They caught me! How could they possibly know? I am the champion of garbage removal. No fingers down the throat, no gross noises. Nothing. I’ve practiced for ages. I can’t believe they just walked in and caught me. Is there no privacy in this place? Obviously not. Score one point for the Redheaded Demon of the Ward.
The premise of thinandbeautiful.com is that anorexic Maddie, a 17-year-old being treated at a centre for eating disorders, must write a journal as part of her therapy. Like your standard anorexia novel, the journal writing begins with anecdotes from the protagonist's childhood and teen years, showing her changing attitudes toward friendship, eating and her distorted body image. The journal entries are interspersed with diary-like interruptions to detail the day to day happenings at the treatment centre. The diary entries are set in a different font. As expected, this novel has the main character plunge down deeper into her illness before being forced into treatment. Revelation – as always – comes in the form of a fellow anorexic's death.
The press material on thinandbeautiful.com indicates that there is a fresh twist on the issue because Maddie's illness is exacerbated by pro-ana websites. While there is a thread about Maddie and her virtual pro-ana friends, this sub-theme (set in a third font) only consumes about 10% of the novel.
At 261 pages, this is a lot of words for – dare I say – a thin story. It would have been more compelling had the double adjectives and throw-away words (totally, completely, actually) been pared off. Because the novel is so wordy, I suspect some readers will pick it up for the attractive cover and begin the novel but not finish it. Those who get tired of the wordiness may flip through to see if something catches their eye. The message exchange between participants of the pro-ana site, Girls Without Shadows (GWS) forum is eye-catching with a different font and lots of white space, so those the page-flippers will land upon these passages. The GWS message exchange could be used as a how-to manual for developing an eating disorder. For example, GWS discusses in detail how one can vomit up food without using fingers and which foods are the best to start with. And readers who set down the book because of its length will not get to the part at the end that shows the dangers of purging and binging.
thinandbeautiful.com is a catchy title, and even teens who don't pick up the novel will be tempted to go to thinandbeautiful.com online, and that is a good thing. What they'll find is a blog by the author, with permanent links to eating disorder help organizations.
This is Liane Shaw's first novel, and it was inspired by her own struggles with an eating disorder. There is an implied authority when a survivor writes a novel. Just as an archaeologist shouldn't do a dig on their own culture, writers are not an authority on their own disease. While I am sure there is much accuracy in this novel, it lacks perspective. Shaw is a promising writer, and I look forward to reading a novel written by her that isn't based on her own struggles.
Recommended with reservations.
Marsha Skrypuch's eleventh book, Call Me Aram, was published in 2009. Her first novel, The Hunger, was time-travel about an anorexic teen.
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