Struggling with grief.. struggling with food

beautiful monster good readsTITLE = BEAUTIFUL MONSTER

AUTHOR = KATE MCCAFFREY

GENRE = IDENTITY, EATING DISORDERS, MENTAL HEALTH, GRIEF, FAMILY RELATIONSHIPS

INTEREST LEVEL = YEAR 10 – 12

The cover of this novel is rather bleak and this is matched by the story itself. Within the first few pages, Tessa’s life is thrown asunder as she watches her younger brother die in a car accident. She and her family struggle to cope: Mum falls into a depressive illness from which she struggles to emerge, Dad tries to support her through this and Tessa’s response is to fall into the clutches of an eating disorder.

Realistically, Tessa cleverly hides her problems from family and friends for much of the novel.  A bright, intelligent girl she also plays clever mental games to maintain control over her eating.

McCaffrey has written powerful novels on difficult themes in the past but this one doesn’t quite gel. It is certainly a heartbreaking exploration of a difficult subject. However, the exceptional circumstances surrounding Tessa’s dilemma (brother’s death, mother’s breakdown) and the employment of “Ned” as a means of explaining her mental games tends to limit the resonance of the novel. In this regard, it suffers in comparison with “Wintergirls” a recently published novel about eating disorders which painfully exposes the mental anguish of sufferers in a more “every girl” manner.

Nevertheless, McCaffrey writes well and creates eminently believable characters and situations. Some teen readers may find the novel of interest – if they can get past the cover! (The title certainly provides food for thought). However, be warned that the ending may also seem a bit grim – so the novel may be more suited to older readers.

Recommended for older readers (dma) ***

The pain of an eating disorder

wintergirlsTITLE =wintergirls

AUTHOR =Laurie Halse Anderson

GENRE =Identity, Growing up, Mental Health

INTEREST LEVEL = Years 11, 12

This is a brilliantly conceived book but it is not easy to read, as the narrator, Lia quite literally struggles to stay alive. Laurie Halse Anderson certainly captures the mental games (and therefore the mental anguish) that can become a part of life for any teen who is suffering from an eating disorder, as Lia is. The frustration and concern of her family is also all too evident, as they fail to read the signs correctly or simply fail to understand how she deceives them at every turn, despite their best efforts to support her. The fact that Lia’s best friend, Cassie has recently failed in a similar struggle with anorexia and made a belated attempt to gain Lia’s support, only adds fuel to the fire of Lia’s guilt and exra dread and horror for the reader – as we hope that the same fate does not await Lia. The ending is all too believable.

All in all, a powerful novel but not for the faint hearted. Deserving nominee for several awards. More appropriate for older students due to the challenging content.

Recommended (with caution) ***** (dma)