Book Review: Sad Perfect by Stephanie Elliot


The story of a teen girl’s struggle with Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder and how love helps her on the road to recovery.

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.

For a better look at ED, check out Jessica’s review of Elena, Vanishing. And for more information about eating disorders and treatment visit the National Eating Disorder Association.

If I could give this zero bards, I would, but I guess I’ll settle for one.

Book Review: Elena Vanishing by Elena Dunkle and Clare B. Dunkle

Seventeen-year-old Elena is vanishing. Every day means renewed determination, so every day means fewer calories. This is the story of a girl whose armor against anxiety becomes artillery against herself as she battles on both sides of a lose-lose war in a struggle with anorexia. Told entirely from Elena’s perspective over a five-year period and co-written with her mother, award-winning author Clare B. Dunkle, Elena’s memoir is a fascinating and intimate look at a deadly disease, and a must read for anyone who knows someone suffering from an eating disorder.

**I originally reviewed this novel for Reading Teen and you can visit their blog as well. 

Release Date: May 19, 2015

It seems almost impossible to describe the voice in your head when you have an Eating Disorder.  The voice is disembodied, but it seems more tangible than a book in your hands or the food sitting on a plate in front of you.  That voice fills up the space in your mind and takes away the silence and peace that you’ve worked so hard to achieve.  It tells you all of the things you hate most about yourself and drills them into your subconscious, and the worst part is that you believe every insult it throws at you.

Elena Dunkle’s memoir, Elena Vanishing, is the first book that I’ve ever read that gives a completely honest picture of how hard it is to accept that there is a problem and that help is needed.  The authors note at the beginning of the novel that Elena’s story is true, but that there are fictional aspects to the story.  Does that sound contradictory? Of course, but so is life with an eating disorder.  But the main point of that disclaimer is to recognize how impairing an eating disorder can be and how many memories and moments are distorted through the disease.  So when venturing into reading this, remember that parts are embellished based on Elena’s experience.  Instead of taking away from the narrative, I believe that these parts make the story even more powerful.

The writing is superb, and Elena acknowledges that the majority of the writing was actually completed by her mother, Clare, but that the collaborative effort was intense and brought them closer together.  Be aware that this story is very painful.  There are a lot of family issues explored, self esteem, depression, self harm, obsessive compulsive disorder, and a lot more on top of the eating disorder.  By no means is the narrative overwhelming, the Dunkles did a fantastic job of displaying the harrowing details of their experience with Anorexia without being too overwhelming.  The pacing is excellent and at no point did the narrative lag.

While I find this memoir to have been comforting due to feeling like someone finally put words on a page to describe my struggle, please be aware that stories like these can also be triggering for some who are struggling with eating disorders.  I firmly encourage you to reach out to your primary care physician or therapist if you are having trouble.  Elena states in the memoir: getting help saved her life.  It saved mine.  It can save yours.

For more information about eating disorders and treatment options please visit the National Eating Disorder Association.
For more information about Elena, her struggle, and her life now please visit her website.

You can also connect to Elena on Twitter: @ElenaDunkle

Buy the Book: 

Amazon | Flyleaf Books | Barnes & Noble

 

5 Bards.

fivebards

 

National Eating Disorder Awareness Week 2015

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Each year, the National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA for short) designates a whole week to raising awareness for the increasing numbers of diagnosed EDs.  We here at A Midsummer Night’s Read are avid supporters of the NEDA initiative, as an Eating Disorder has effected one of our own.

Some facts about Eating Disorders before we head into the last NEDA week post:

35% of Dieters progress to Disordered Eating

20 Million Women suffer from a clinically significant Eating Disorder in their life

10 Million Men suffer from a clinically significant Eating Disorder in their life

81% of 10-year-olds who are afraid of being Fat

People who struggle with Binge Eating Disorder can be of Normal or Heavier than average weight

Up to 65% of people with Eating Disorders say Bullying contributed to their ED

Eating Disorders have the highest Mortality rate than any other mental illness

This week on MSNR we are going to feature a young adult fiction/non-fiction book concerning Eating Disorders.  Please be aware that some of these works can have some triggers (what we in the community call things that can lead to disordered behavior), but all of the messages here are about how damaging these behaviors are and how important diagnosis and treatment is are very valid and well done.

For our final post this week, I was going to read and review A Trick of the Light by Lois Metzger since it focuses on a teen male that suffers from an Eating Disorder, but alas, the winter weather thwarted my plan!  To be honest, I find it a bit ridiculous that there isn’t more literature showing how men can be just as effected as women.  The lead singer of Silverchair, Daniel Johns, famously struggled with Anorexia and Depression, and he even released a song about his struggle in 1999 titled “Ana’s Song.”


“And you’re my obsession
I love you to the bones
And Ana wrecks your life
Like an Anorexic life”

But, I do plan to read and review Metzger’s book as soon as I get it in the male, and I really hope it does justice to the story of so many men suffering in silence.

So for my final post specifically for National Eating Disorder Awareness week, I am going to post a few titles that I plan to read and review soon.  I definitely want to steer away from strictly Anorexia focused YA novels, only because there are so many more forms of Eating Disorders that effect the population.  There is Binge Eating Disorder, Bulimia, EDNOS (Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified, Orthorexia, just to name a few.

Purge by Sarah Darer Littman (Bulimia)

Massive by Julia Bell (EDNOS)

Nothing by Robin Friedman (Male Bulimia)

Never Enough by Denise Jaden (Bulimia, Family Adapation)

I’d really like to see a novel that focuses on Binge Eating Disorder, but it appears that most of the novels are still very binary to the Anorexia and Bulimia aspect of Eating Disorders.  But hopefully through raising awareness for all Eating Disorders, the language will start to infiltrate our daily consciousness and knowledge.

If you know anyone who is suffering, please direct them to the National Eating Disorder Association.

“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all –
– Emily Dickinson

National Eating Disorder Awareness Week 2015

nedaathletes

Each year, the National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA for short) designates a whole week to raising awareness for the increasing numbers of diagnosed EDs.  We here at A Midsummer Night’s Read are avid supporters of the NEDA initiative, as an Eating Disorder has effected one of our own.

While eating disorders are serious, potentially life-threatening illnesses, help is available and recovery is possible. It is important for those affected, and their loved ones, to remember that they are not alone in their struggle. Others have recovered and are now living healthy fulfilling lives. Let the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) be a part of your support network. NEDA has information and resources available via our website and helpline: www.NationalEatingDisorders.org, NEDA Helpline: 1 (800) 931-2237 (Source: NEDA)

This week on MSNR we are going to feature a young adult fiction/non-fiction book concerning Eating Disorders.  Please be aware that some of these works can have some triggers (what we in the community call things that can lead to disordered behavior), but all of the messages here are about how damaging these behaviors are and how important diagnosis and treatment is are very valid and well done.

For our fourth day in National Eating Disorder Awareness week, I’ve chosen to showcase Sarah Dessen’s Just Listen.

justlistenLast year, Annabel was “the girl who has everything” — at least that’s the part she played in the television commercial for Kopf’s Department Store.

This year, she’s the girl who has nothing: no best friend because mean-but-exciting Sophie dropped her, no peace at home since her older sister became anorexic, and no one to sit with at lunch. Until she meets Owen Armstrong.

Tall, dark, and music-obsessed, Owen is a reformed bad boy with a commitment to truth-telling. With Owen’s help, maybe Annabel can face what happened the night she and Sophie stopped being friends.

The main reason I loved reading Just Listen and what made me want to share it as a part of National Eating Disorder Awareness week is because the character with the eating disorder is not the main character or narrator.  The other books I’ve chosen throughout this week have featured narration by a main character struggling with an Eating Disorder (Thin features the narration of many inpatients throughout the book), but Just Listen deals with the Eating Disorder from an outside standpoint.

Be aware that the main focus of this novel is not the eating disorder, but the depression and listlessness of the main character, but Dessen did extremely well exemplifying how a member of the family suffering with an eating disorder can affect each family member emotionally.  Dessen also does an excellent job of showing how mental illness can be influenced and exacerbated by outside influences.  For instance, Whitney, the middle sister struggling, was a somewhat successful model in New York City before her Anorexia took hold.  Dessen points out that the pressures in that particularly industry were too much for that character.

It is enlightening to read about the warning signs of an Eating Disorder, and even the struggles of being in Recovery from an outside point of view, no matter if it is ficticious.  Whitney is described as increasingly easily irritated, secretive, stubborn, and has a touch of denial with her disease. There are a couple of quotes that I want to leave you with from the novel, ones that directly deal with Whitney.

“The thing about Whitney,” I said, “is that she was always really private. So you never knew if anything was wrong with her.”

“One open, one closed. It was no wonder that the first image that came to mind when I thought of either of my sisters was a door. (…)Whitney’s was the one to her bedroom, which she preferred to keep shut between her and the rest of us, always.”

“We’d all gathered around Whitney, even when she didn’t want us to, and Kirsten and I had gotten closer when she pushed us both away.”

“Looking at her, I thought again how beautiful she was – even in jeans and a T-shirt, no makeup, she was breathtaking. So much so that it was hard to believe she could ever have looked at herself and seen anything else.”

If you know someone who may be suffering please encourage them to get help or to contact http://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/

5 Bards. If you haven’t read any of Dessen’s novels, I recommend doing so ASAP.

I hope you will come back throughout Eating Disorder Awareness week!

“Society. The same society, I might add, that dictates that little girls should always be sugar and spice and everything nice, which encourages them not to be assertive. And that, in turn, then leads to low self-esteem, which can lead to eating disorders and increased tolerance and acceptance of domestic, sexual, and substance abuse.” – Sarah Dessen, Along for the Ride

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Wells Fargo Duke Energy Center in Charlotte, NC lit up in Green & Blue for Eating Disorder Awareness

National Eating Disorder Awareness Week 2015

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Each year, the National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA for short) designates a whole week to raising awareness for the increasing numbers of diagnosed EDs.  We here at A Midsummer Night’s Read are avid supporters of the NEDA initiative, as an Eating Disorder has effected one of our own.

If someone is exhibiting signs or thoughts of struggling with an eating disorder, intervening during the early stages of development can significantly increase the likelihood of preventing the onset of a full-blown eating disorder. It also leads to greater chances of a full recovery. It can prevent years of struggle and can even save lives. A key goal of #NEDAwareness Week is to direct individuals to a free online screening for eating disorders at www.MyBodyScreening.org (Source: NEDA.)

This week on MSNR we are going to feature a young adult fiction/non-fiction book concerning Eating Disorders.  Please be aware that some of these works can have some triggers (what we in the community call things that can lead to disordered behavior), but all of the messages here are about how damaging these behaviors are and how important diagnosis and treatment is are very valid and well done.

Today’s book choice is one that was the first novel that I read that involved Eating Disorders directly, The California Diaries: Maggie #2.

maggieIf only I could be perfect.If only I could lose 10 pounds.

Then I’ll be happy; then everything will be perfect.

Maggie’s got an eating disorder, and it’s getting worse.

The California Diaries was Ann Martin’s transition series from the young middle grade reader series, the unforgettable Babysitters Club, to more pre-YA and YA audiences.  She did this with ease as she used one of the most beloved Babysitters Club characters, Dawn, and followed her back to California and introduced a whole new group of lovable characters.  I immediately took to Martin’s new series, as I really enjoyed how the books were structured as each individual character’s intimate diary.  This meant that the narrative was a bit disjointed because of the style, but the effect was still powerful.

Maggie, who was characterized as being shallow at first, started developing questionable eating habits in her first diary, but it was this second diary that really explored the disorder.  It was the first time I’d really read anything about eating disorders other than during the brief three page overview that our middle school health classes required us to read.  I remember thinking that this book was fascinating, and I eventually read and re-read this book so many times that my copy fell apart.

The novel is very short, and almost every “diary” entry begins with a list of foods that Maggie ate during that day.  It chronicles the downward spiral that eating disorders can spark, and it showcases how depression and EDs can go hand in hand.  In addition, Maggie fights the idea that she has a problem through most of the narrative, which is typical of sufferers who aren’t ready to accept their diagnosis or intervention.  For a novel aimed at a younger audience, this book really did a lot for me in understanding and knowing what eating disorders do.  It also shows that Eating Disorders can affect those in their pre-teens and early teen years.  Eating disorders do not discriminate on age.

Remember, like with most novels about EDs, that there can be some triggering ideas.  In this book, for instance, the food tracking and journaling can be very upsetting and can possibly kickstart some controlling and disordered behavior.

If you know someone who may be suffering please encourage them to get help or to contact http://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/

4 Bards.

I hope you will come back throughout Eating Disorder Awareness week!

“There is no magic cure, no making it all go away forever. There are only small steps upward; an easier day, an unexpected laugh, a mirror that doesn’t matter anymore.” – Laurie Halse Anderson, Wintergirls.

 

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