Thursday, February 19, 2015

Review: Skinny by Donna Cooner


Okay, let's get this out of the way now. This book about a morbidly obese girl going through gastric bypass surgery doesn't feature a morbidly obese girl on the cover. Slim-washing aside, I like the UK one, mostly because it drives the point of the story across much better than the one on the left. 

This book sat on my shelf for a long, long time. Personal disclaimer - I'm in recovery from depression that threatened to turn into an eating disorder, so I was a little afraid that the content might be triggering to me. That said, I'm glad I finally picked "Skinny" up because it's honestly one of the best stories I've read in a long, long time.

Ever Davies is morbidly obese. At 15 years old, she weighs 302 pounds and is painfully aware of that, thanks to the voice inside her head. Skinny, as she is nicknamed, tells Ever all the things people are thinking about her, and Skinny is always right. Or is she? 

After a series of events, Ever makes the drastic decision to undergo gastric bypass surgery. She begins to lose weight and her life begins to change, but Skinny is not in a hurry to leave. 

This is not a supernatural book, but it does use a very good extended metaphor to drive meaning across. Who hasn't felt like there is a malevolent fairy whispering in our ears from time to time? Reading the minds of our friends, making us think the worst, coercing us, trying to get us to act on these assumptions... Sometimes we can ignore the voice inside our heads, but sometimes we cannot, and when we listen to it, things get ugly.

Ever is definitely listening to Skinny. She spends a lot of this book being hurt and angry, keeping people at a distance and then being furious that they aren't approaching her more. Cooner does a fantastic job at illustrating the vicious cycle people go through when they are depressed or unhappy with themselves: you beat yourself for not being more like your ideal self (in Ever's case, skinny,) you think people are avoiding your because of that, or talking behind your back, you get angry and suspicious, you stay away or outright snap at them, they get weary of you, and then you're like "SEE, I TOLD YOU THEY HATED YOU!" Rinse and repeat, until subject has dug themselves into a hole, and then some. 

(by the by, if you're having a problem with a Skinny inside your head, may I recommend this excellent TED talk on self-compassion?) 



I mentioned that Ever undergoes gastric bypass surgery to lose weight, which seems like a pretty controversial topic - the fact that people need to have their internal organs literally shuffled around in a life-threatening surgery in order to lose weight seems like something out of a sci-fi movie. But I think the book handles it well. It's mostly in the pre-op part of the book, where the doctor briefs Ever and her father on what to expect, and she brings her best friend Rat to a pre-op support group meeting, but it drives through the point - it's a dangerous medical procedure done best as a last resort, that is not a magic wand and might royally backfire on you. 

(In the acknowledgements, the author repeats the warning, and adds a caveat that while this procedure worked for her, it's very individual. Kudos for that - not all books handle this subject matter this well.)

The real strength of this read, though, lies in its characters and how they are dealing with the situations at hand. Ever's father, in particular, is fantastic - he clearly wants the best for his kid, but is at loss how to speak to her. (A lot of people seem at a loss as to how to speak to Ever. I'd hazard a guess, but it's the "Skinny" effect.) And he's not the only one - from Ever's stepsister Briella to her best friend Rat to Whitney, the characters here read like real people, not some meat-puppet shuffled around on a stage for the sake of getting a point across.

So what's the point here? From the premise, you expect a Cinderella story where the moral is "beauty is on the inside," but the final revelation here isn't about the way the world views you, it's about the way you view yourself. Ever spends a lot of time fixating on other people's opinions, assuming that her worth as a human being depends on certain things - having a boyfriend, a popular BFF, a "rockin' bod". But those things are never what they are cut out to be, and because you can never please everyone, perfection is this constantly moving target that you can never reach. (There's a reason why I chose to link to this particular TED talk, after all.)

I cannot recommend this book enough.


Note the First: Images via BookLikes 

Note the Second: I'm running to rise funds for a young people's mental health charity. To contribute, or just spread the word, please follow this link.

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