You'll see in a minute why I think this book should be a part of your library.
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. From critically acclaimed writer Alyssa B. Sheinmel comes an unflinching and unparalleled portrayal of one girl’s withdrawal, until she is sinking like a stone into her own illness, her own loneliness—her own self.
(from Alyssa's website. You can read an excerpt and find out more about the book by clicking on this sentence!)
The Review: (Well, the part of this post where I gush about how much I liked this book)
When I was first approached by Random House to be a part of this tour... I'll be honest, I wasn't sure. Wintergirls was tough enough to read-- did I want to dive in to another book about body image and eating disorders so soon after all of the discussions I had been having with friends on and offline about my vlog post?
But then I opened Alyssa's book, read her foreword... and burst into tears. This was the book for girls like me and like many of my friends. Girls who didn't quite fit the mold when it came to textbook definitions of anorexia or bulemia. I won't write any spoilers, but there is a scene in the beginning of the book between Sethie and her friend Janey that gave me chills because one of my own friends had the same experience. Sethie is real and relateable and her story was hard to put down.
The (Mini) Interview: (Where Alyssa answers my LOOOONG questions)
Well first of all, thank you. I wrote this book for many reasons, but one of them is certainly that I felt that there was a part of the story that is rarely, if ever, told; the girls who skate on the precipice of eating disorders – not quite sick, but certainly not well either.
And to answer your questions – Yes! Repeatedly as I wrote the novel I doubted the story. I wondered whether there was anything left to say about eating disorders that hadn’t been said already, and by people much more qualified than I am. I wondered if anyone would care about Sethie’s story; the girl who skips or vomits only some of her meals, who doesn’t drop down to eighty pounds, who isn’t admitted to an eating-disorders clinic. I stopped writing the book repeatedly, but something always kept me coming back. Finally, I decided that I would write the book, but maybe I wouldn’t share it; maybe it was something I was writing for me, this eating disorders book that I just had to get out of my system. But once I’d finished a draft, much to my surprise, I did want to share it. And – also to my surprise – people seemed to believe in Sethie’s story.
2. The friends who opened up to me about their own experiences with body image issues and eating disorders/disordered eating have mentioned the amazing things in their lives that they wouldn't have experienced if they had continued down that path. For me, it's been skating and eating my way through a few countries. What are one or two things in your life that you have been able to enjoy because you were able to move past the need to be ultra-thin?
Oh my goodness, where do I start? Of course, with the obvious – food. The funny thing is, despite everything else, I’ve always been kind of an enormous foodie. Going to new restaurants, taking trips just to try new restaurants in other cities, are some of my favorite things to do. Thanksgiving is my single favorite day of the year, not least because it is an entire national holiday that completely revolves around a meal. And being able to do those things I enjoy so much without the fear or guilt about food hovering over me is certainly something I would have missed out on had I not let go of my body-obsession.
But there is so much more, of course. I don’t know exactly when or how I gave up my body-obsession, but I do know this: my life became infinitely better once body-obsession wasn’t a part of it. I became better at my job, I made better friends, I began practicing yoga, I started dating the boy I would later marry, I got my wonderful, sweet, funny dog. I can’t tell you exactly how it happened – Did I finally get to have these good things because I let go of my body-obsession and was able to concentrate on more important things? Or was I able to let go of my body-obsession because my life was newly filled with these good things? Or was it simply that these good things demanded the energy I used to spend on my body-obsession? I honestly don’t know; what I do know is that the things I wanted most shifted. There was a time when the thing I wanted most in the world was to be thinner. Now, of course, I still have days when I feel fat, days when I wish I could change something about my body or myself. But those thoughts are relatively fleeting. Now, there are just so many other things that I want more.
A few weeks ago, I was sick – some kind of stomach bug or food poisoning. I was out of town, and spent my vacation miserably holed up in my hotel room. I pretty much couldn’t eat anything. And here’s the thing – it was oddly familiar, walking into the market of the hotel, seeing foods that I loved and wanted to eat, and having to remind myself, No, you can’t eat those things. It was a bizarre kind of flashback to the way that I used to live. It only lasted a few days, but suddenly food was the stuff of longing, the stuff of bargaining, the stuff of promises. What a strange thing, after all this time, to find myself promising that if I just made it through one more day of being “good” I could have whatever I wanted later. Rationalizing that I could have one bite of the donuts from my favorite restaurant, but only one, even though I was hungry enough for two, or three, or four. It made me sad for the girl I used to be, the one who spent so much of her energy thinking about food, feeling guilty about food, fearing food. I was relieved when the vacation was over and I recovered, relieved when I could go back to normal. I was so uncomfortable living like that for just a few days; I can’t imagine how I spent a few years that way.
Of course, even when my body-obsession was at its worst, I didn’t live like that every single day. Sometimes, food was a source of joy or pleasure or simply nourishment, as it should be. Sometimes, I could go weeks without trying to skip a meal, months without vomiting. I never even dropped down to an unhealthy weight.
Your questions got me thinking; with the publication of The Stone Girl fewer than two weeks away, I’ve been talking so much about the book, and about eating disorders lately. I’ve written and spoken about my personal experiences with food and body-obsession quite a bit over the past few months, more than I had in years, more perhaps than I ever had. I wrote this book thinking about those of us who – as you beautifully said – “skirted the edge of the eating disorder cliff,” and even now, I find that I check myself when I’m writing about my own life; I’ll delete the words eating disorder, anorexic or bulimic and replace them with the words body-obsession. Even now, sometimes I still don’t believe I deserve to call whatever it was that I had an eating disorder.
I don’t remember the last time I made myself throw up, the last meal I skipped in an effort to drop a few pounds. It’s been, I think, fewer than ten years, but more than seven or eight. I may still dance around the semantics of it, but this much is true: I was sick then, and I am better now.