Sixteen-year-old Pea looks normal, but she has a secret: she has Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID). It is like having a monster inside of her, one that not only dictates what she can eat, but also causes anxiety, depression, and thoughts that she doesn’t want to have. When she falls crazy-mad in love with Ben, she hides her disorder from him, pretending that she’s fine. At first, everything really does feel like it’s getting better with him around, so she stops taking her anxiety and depression medication. And that’s when the monster really takes over her life. Just as everything seems lost and hopeless, Pea finds in her family, and in Ben, the support and strength she needs to learn that her eating disorder doesn’t have to control her.
Release Date: February 28, 2017
A couple disclaimers before I get started. Jessica originally agreed to write an honest review of this book in exchange for an advanced copy. As someone in recovery for ED, she jumped on the chance to review a new book with positive representation, especially about a relatively unknown ED. However, before she received the book she read this anonymous review by another ED survivor. We talked about it and decided it might be too triggering for her to read it, so we had the book sent to me instead. Full disclosure, I do not have an eating disorder but I am familiar with Jess’s story and one of my best friends from high school almost died because of her struggle with her ED.
Okay, so I slept on it before writing this review and I’m still angry but I’ll try to keep the yelling out. First things first, I am not a fan of second person narration. While overall it was a quick read, it was irritating trying to get through it. Second, Pea spends this entire book putting down other girls, and even gets this idea reinforced from her boyfriend who says, “Maybe that’s what I expect girls to do, pick girlie colors, but you’re different,” and, later on, the quintessential quote, “You’re not like other girls.” Excuse me while I go scream for eternity that THERE’S NOTHING WRONG WITH OTHER GIRLS.
And that’s just what I thought was disappointing about this book. But Sad Perfect is more than just disappointing, it’s damaging on so many levels. When Pea first gets her diagnosis of ARFID she immediately starts one on one and group sessions of therapy. There’s not much focus on either of these things as part of her recovery. The things we do see of group therapy are her continued thoughts of otherness. She repeatedly mentions that her ED is different than the other girls (only girls, because obviously only white girls can have ED) and therefore somehow worse. This opinion does not change by the end of the book.
While she does continue therapy throughout the book, it seems that the only real help she gets is from her boyfriend whom she met in the very first chapter. She decides that he helps her so much that she stops taking her anti-depressants. So when they get into a fight, she starts self harming with a safety pin (way to glorify that by putting it on the cover of the book, btw). While self-harm can coexist with ED and other mental illnesses, her self-harm was literally a plot device to get her admitted to a hospital on suicide watch, where Elliot vilifies almost all hospital staff and makes gross stereotypes of the people that “need” to be there.
Pea’s stay in the hospital was her catalyst for wanting to get better and taking responsibility for her “monster.” She talks at length about how she created this monster and that really the monster is her and that her ED is her fault. She then goes on to say that she doesn’t deserve to be in the hospital when she has her family and Ben (who she has known for approximately 10 seconds) who love her. But these stereotypically low-income people need to be in the hospital because they don’t have anyone who loves them. There were multiple times that I wanted to throw this book, but during her whole hospital stay I had to physically restrain myself from actually doing so.
At the end of the book, we’re left with the message that Pea is still different from everyone else and that the power of a boy loving you will make you want to get better. I understand that Elliot’s daughter suffers from ARFID and she wanted to shed light on what her daughter and her family went through. However, it’s glaringly obvious that she has no knowledge whatsoever about any other ED and doesn’t care to.