Friday, September 21, 2012
Skinny by Donna Cooner
I had a lot of problems with this book. I almost don't know where to start. Almost. I was on page seven of this book when I figured out that Ever was seriously depressed and was in need of counseling. Page seven. Her mother died when she was ten, she started gaining weight shortly after that, she thinks everyone is constantly looking at her and judging her, she has one friend, she knows she has a beautiful voice but can't sing and she's got this voice in her head telling her how worthless and ugly she is. This kid needs help, right now. You know what she doesn't need? Major surgery.
Ever weights 302 pounds and at 15 years old and 5'6" that certainly is a health issue. But the bigger issue is how tightly drawn into herself she is, and at the same time blames everything on everyone around her. She is totally blind to the actual perceptions and actions of people around her. All she can see is her weight. If only she wasn't fat, everything would be fine. She would get back the boy she loves, she would star in the school musical, etc., etc. These are totally rational things for a depressed, overweight kid to think. But you know what needs to not happen? GASTRIC BYPASS SURGERY.
Ever does not want the surgery because there is a concern about her health. There's one sentence about how she's in danger for diabetes and heart problems. Nothing more, no details given. Ever goes in for gastric bypass surgery because she's convinced that if she loses weight, all her problems will be solved. And her father and her doctor let her. This is so, so wrong. There is no discussion of what actually happens when someone wants a surgery like this. The doctor that saw Ever should have his license revoked. He makes a comment about how obesity is becoming more of a problem with adolescents (true) and that children as young as 12 had had the surgery. WTF? Who is performing these surgeries? Where are their parents? It would have to be an pretty damn extreme circumstance I would think.
I have a friend who has just had a similar surgery. It was not gastric bypass itself, but very similar. She did it because she is an adult who has struggled with her weight for years, who is now experiencing back problems and other health issues. In order to be considered for the procedure she had to attend THREE informational sessions on the procedure. Ever's getting prepped for her surgery and saying things like, "Wait, I'm not going to be able to eat sweets anymore?" My friend needed to attend sessions with a therapist. A therapist probably would have spent five minutes with Ever before realizing she was depressed. You don't get to just waltz into the doctor, tell him you've tried to lose weight before and can't and they sign you up.
And in a YA book, that's important. I know that Donna Cooner had gastric bypass surgery (as an adult). Her experience was probably positive and she wanted to share that. She also clearly wanted to write a happy YA book that involved a makeover. She didn't want to write a serious book about someone trying to figure out if surgery was the right decision for her. And when it comes to YA books about weight lose, I think you need to tread very carefully.
Ever has her surgery and begins to lose weight. A popular girl adopts her and helps her buy lots of pretty clothes and makeup and takes her for a fancy haircut. Ever thinks that everything is going to be great now, except of course it isn't, because the weight wasn't what the issue was at all. The weight was the result. Ever finally has her big realization that she's been listening to this voice in her head telling her everyone hates her and that she's ugly, when in fact she was the one shutting everyone out. And she realizes that her best friend has been in love with her the whole time, even when she weighed 302 pounds, and that she is in love with him. That's nice, of course. But Ever didn't need to have the surgery to get there. In fact, the surgery was a mistake, but Ever never actually says that. Nor does she ever actually deal with the root of the problem, the grief the death of her mother.
If this book was going to have a 15-year-old character have gastric bypass surgery, then gastric bypass surgery needed to be more of the book. Ever has the surgery over the summer, then we jump to several weeks later, than to the end of the summer. Very little about her recovery process, or what one has to do after a surgery like this. Nothing on having to sip a certain amount of announces of fluid each hour so you stay hydrated. Nothing about the discomfort or pain. It's hardly there at all. Next thing we know Ever's lost a bunch of weight and Rat is getting her to exercise.
The way time past in this book was odd. I understand that it actually takes place over the course of an entire year, but it jumps a lot, and it doesn't feel like time is really passing. It seems like Ever loses a massive amount of weight in a very short amount of time, and now all the popular kids are talking to her and she's wearing pretty clothes and getting dates.
I can't think of a situation where I would recommend this book. If someone wanted a happy makeover book, there are better ones. If someone wanted a book about a girl learning a valuable lesson about herself, there are better ones. If someone wanted a book about a girl realizing she was in love with her best friend the whole time, there are a million options. And most of all, if someone wanted a book about a teen struggling with her weight, I would never point them toward this one.
And who's that girl on the cover? It certainly isn't Ever.
Skinny comes out October 1, 2012.