I’m sitting in my reading chair with a cup of tea and a bowl of fresh strawberries (not local, unfortunately, as it hasn’t been quite warm enough for long enough), feeling the drain of the heat already - I’m not a summer person, and already the warm weather is affecting my energy level. So I can’t guarantee a post that meets my usual upbeat standard - I know you will forgive me!
I read a book last week that was very good, but also very sad. 13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl by Mona Awad tells the story of Elizabeth from the age of about 16 to 26, and her experiences as a fat girl. It begins when she and her fat friend are at a McDonald’s in Misery Saga (aka Mississauga), certain that a couple of guys at the next table are checking them out. This theme of needing to be seen as desirable by others continues throughout the thirteen tales about Elizabeth/Beth/Liz, as she tries to find happiness and acceptance, and even love, despite her weight. Even when she finally achieves the thinness she has coveted her whole life, she seems unable to make peace with who she is or find the happiness she longs for. She remarks to a friend early in the novel that she dreams of someday having an eating disorder, which will leave her hungry and angry all the time, but she'll look great! While this seems like the kind of throwaway remark a teen might make, and the reader may be inclined to dismiss it, it really is exactly what she wants, and we are reminded of the caution to be careful what you wish for because you just might get it. These harrowing stories emphasize cultural expectations and societal pressures on women regarding weight. It was a difficult read, and I wondered if it was true that people really feel this way if they have or perceive themselves to have a weight problem. It certainly sounded true - Awad’s use of language was both direct and critical, and her portrayal of Elizabeth’s emotional difficulties as a result of these pressures was jarring and yet sensitive. Awad goes into great detail describing the main character’s relationships with friends, lovers, partners and family members, and the reader is left feeling that she never really connects with anyone because her animosity, bitterness and envy towards anyone who is thinner or seems happier than her always overrides her emotional needs. It was not an uplifting book, and while there were occasional glimmers of hope, the reader is left with a stark image of a very unhappy person. Although it seems that the author's intention was to emphasize our cultural obsession with weight, this reader was left thinking that, if only the author would have considered the experiences of the main character into her 30s or 40s, maybe Elizabeth would have finally come to terms with her body and accepted who she is, and finally find happiness… perhaps there will be a sequel? It was definitely a skilled debut by a very talented new Canadian author. I would give it an 8 out of 10, but be prepared to be sad and angry throughout most of the book.
That’s all for today. Stay cool and keep reading!
Bye for now…
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