Plot: Lia and her best friend Cassie have been struggling with their weight for years. Now Cassie has been found dead in a motel room and a voice in Lia’s head keep reminding her to be strong, in control, empty. Her divorced, workaholic parents and her step-mother monitor her food and her behavior but Lia knows that she will only be better if she can be less.
This is a hard book about a difficult subject but written so beautifully with such sensibility that I couldn’t put it down, even when certain passages made me gasp in horror. Halse Anderson pulls no punches: she doesn’t hesitate to show us the physical consequences of eating disorders, the strain that Lia and Cassie put on their bodies. And yet she manages to do so without being condescending or moralizing by remaining firmly in Lia’s point of view. It’s a first person narration so we get to see Lia’s thought processes, her struggles, her resentment towards the adults in her life and the sneaky ways in which she loses weight – because Lia is far from stupid and she is not without support in her weight loss – from the inside. And though all this is very worrisome, at times disturbing and I fear familiar for many, it allows us to better understand Lia and teens like her. Halse Anderson humanizes Lia, makes her more than a statistic or a condition.
Also, I have to say that I love how various typographical techniques – crossed out words, changes in font, font size and alignment, among other things – are used to illustrate the struggles in Lia’s mind. It adds extra impact to an already skillfully constructed novel.
The ending isn’t an easy one: there are no white knights, no overnight changes, no magic cures. Lia’s road to health is hard and slow but Halse Anderson ends the novel with hope, with one simple beautiful phrase.
Also check Halse Anderson’s award winning book about rape and bullying, Speak.