First of all, I was given the chance to read an advance copy of this book for review purposes. I have not been compensated in any way (other than being given a PDF copy of this book) and my opinion on the book are entirely my own.
Second, this book contains depictions and discussion of disordered eating/anorexia and cancer and may be triggering for some people.
15 year old Diana Keller is having a really hard time. Her mom is sick, incredibly sick, with cancer and that’s a lot to deal with. Her friends are maturing and changing and she’s feeling left behind and left out. And she’s tired of being Fat Diana. She meets Jesse, a new arrival in their tiny rural town, and they start dating, and she wants to be perfect for him. So she starts doing something… she starts exercising, a lot. And she stops eating.
It… doesn’t really help.
This is a pretty unflinching look at ED and the way it impacts people. Arens really digs into the mindset of ED, the obsession, the logic and illogical. It’s beautifully written, but sometimes hard to read because it’s so meaty. Despite the meatiness, however, there’s a lot of humor in the book, and a lot of hope. Diana is, ultimately, lucky: she has some very good friends, and a very close and supportive family. A lot of people notice that Something Is Wrong and do their best to help her. Arens also draws parallels between acceptable ED (young men trying to drop weight to get into a lower weight class for sports) and unacceptable ED (young women trying to drop weight because women are supposed to take up as little space as possible).
If you’re of a certain age, you might have spent Junior High and High School inundated with “problem books” or “issue books,” edifying fiction novels usually featuring teen aged women who have SERIOUS problems in an unending stream. Their parents have cancer or are dead, they have cancer, they want to be concert pianists but break their arms on the weekend before The Big Audition, someone is beating them, someone is raping them, they can’t stop shop lifting, etc. They were depressing books. It would be easy to glance at this book and see “mom has cancer” and “ED” and assume it’s more of the same. It really is not, however. There’s far too much hope, humor, and support in the book. Additionally, giving a character’s mom cancer is usually a way to write mom out of the picture while giving the protag some big drama thing that shapes them. Arens manages to center Diana’s relationship with her mom. Her mom has cancer, but she’s still mom, and she’s still important.
There are two other things I adored about the book. One is Diana’s best guy friend. They love each other very much and trust and respect each other and are siblings with different parents, basically. They are very close emotionally and comfort each other physically (hugs, cuddles) but there’s no romantic pressure or expectations. I really hate the idea that men and women can’t be FRIENDS because SEX/ROMANCE IS INEVITABLE. So it’s super refreshing to see a positive, affirming heterosexual relationship. And speaking of sex, another thing I liked is that Diana has sex and doesn’t get shamed/punished for it. She worries briefly about the consequences of pregnancy and if her boyfriend will still respect her, but he does. She worries her parents will find out, but they don’t. (and if they did, well, they stick by her in every other way so I doubt finding out she got her bone on would be the end of the world) One of her best friends is well known for “kissing” every available guy she sees, and another has a very serious boyfriend and spends a lot of time behind closed doors with him. Neither gets in trouble/shamed for their actions. Whaaat! Young women have sex and it’s not the end of the world!?! ADORE.
That said, I think my absolute favorite scene in the book is Diana’s snippy Passive-Aggressive “attack” on a teacher she doesn’t like. She cracks open “Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations” and slips a saying about hypocrisy under his door. Oh, nerdy teen angst, I adore and identify with you!