I really didn’t set out to read a whole slew of books about eating disorders.  One was a graphic novel that arrived in the mail for me to review.  One was an autobiography of a man who was most famous for being the restaurant critic for The New York Times but who had a dark (and ironic) secret in his past.  And one was a young adult novel that came across my desk last week.  Since they were all released in 2009, all connected thematically, all written by people who suffered from the same problems they wrote about, and all excellent reads, I thought I’d share them with you.
Tyranny by Lesley Fairfield
[young adult graphic novel]
Anna spends years fighting her own horrible self-image, battling anorexia and bulimia. She is driven by her personal demon, called Tyranny, who constantly challenges and criticizes her.  We meet Tyranny on the very first page of this book, where Tyranny has its hands around Anna’s neck, choking her so hard that it is lifting her up off of the ground.  And while it’s choking her, it’s yelling, “I TOLD YOU NOT TO EAT.  YOU ARE TOO FAT!!”  After this compelling start, Anna reflects back on how she got to this point — how she transformed from a happy child into a girl who went through endless cycles of bingeing, purging, and starving herself to try to change the person she saw in the mirror. Fairfield treats this important subject with intelligence and empathy, and personifying Anna’s self-image in the character of Tyranny is a unique and compelling approach.   This is Fairfield’s first graphic novel, and it’s a fantastic debut.  I’ve already recommended that every library in my system should have at least one copy of this book on their shelves.
Born Round: The Secret History of a Full-Time Eater by Frank Bruni
[adult autobiography]
When this book showed up in my mailbox I couldn’t remember why I’d reserved it or where I’d even heard about it.  I like books, and food, and books about food/restaurants/cooking so I’m sure that an ad or a review must have caught my eye several months earlier.  In this book, Bruni shares many examples of his unhealthy relationship with food.  A lot of the problems began with his mother and with the rest of his extended family, as they showed affection through food and were competitive with each other in terms of cooking (and would be insulted if he didn’t eat enough).  Food was Bruni’s comfort and solace for many years, and in taking too much comfort it was also his downfall.  He would eat because he was depressed about being single, then when he was asked on dates would eat more because he was nervous, then cancel the dates because he was embarassed about not looking good enough, and then eat more because he was depressed and lonely.  He learned ways to drop weight quickly, from normal methods like exercising to extreme measures like taking laxatives and vomiting.  This book is notable on several levels — it’s about a man with eating disorders, it explores his experiences with sleep-eating (one of the most memorable parts of the book), and it’s a true story about a person who made a very surprising decision.  After spending years trying, failing, and finally succeeding in his efforts to get his weight under control, when he was invited to become a restaurant critic he actually said yes.
thinandbeautiful.com by Liane Shaw
[young adult novel]
Madison is an ordinary teenager, which means she spends a lot of time worrying that she isn’t smart enough / popular enough / thin enough.  She has her family and a small group of friends, but she envies the popular girls and the boys they attract.  When her mother takes her for a checkup and the doctor tells Madison that she should start watching what she eats, her insecurities get blown out of proportion and she decides that she has to start dieting and exercising immediately.  The thinner she gets, the more attention she starts to attract from boys and from the popular girls who used to ignore her.  Madison starts leaving her true friends behind and spending more and more time with the popular girls in the cafeteria and with a new group of friends she meets online.  This book is notable for the way it immerses the reader into the world of pro-anorexia websites.  Part of the book takes place in the chatrooms where the girls encourage each other, share weight-loss tips and moral support, and put up pictures of themselves.  Over the course of several months Madison becomes physically weaker, finds it hard to concentrate or even stay awake in school, and adds purging to her list of methods for losing weight.  Finally her parents, at their wits’ end, take away her internet access and finally send her to a treatment center where she is locked up with other teens who have eating disorders and with counselors who can help her deal with her problem.  Except Madison doesn’t think she HAS a problem.  The action in thinandbeautiful.com goes back and forth between the present (Madison in the treatment center) and the past (in the form of a diary in which she recalls the sequence of events that led up to the treatment center).  As you would imagine, Madison’s character matures during the course of this book — her problems aren’t magically solved by the last page, but she is taking the first steps towards mending the fences with her family and friends and finally changing her opinion of herself.