Monday, August 9, 2010

Hunger by Jackie Morse Kessler

Released: October 18, 2010
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
# Pages: 180
Copy provided by: eARC courtesy of publisher and Netgalley
Summary: Netgalley

Lisabeth Lewis has a black steed, a set of scales, and a new job: she's been appointed Famine. How will an anorexic seventeen-year-old girl from the suburbs fare as one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse?
A wildly original approach to the issue of eating disorders, Hunger is about the struggle to find balance in a world of extremes, and uses fantastic tropes to explore a difficult topic that touches the lives of many teens.

When I started reading Hunger, I found the internal dialogue between Lisa and her Thin voice rather disturbing. Then it dawned on me that we all hear it occasionally, only most of us are able to ignore it - but not Lisa. She is constantly belittling herself and has convinced herself she is not good enough. I was horrified, because on the surface these girls, Lisa and her friend Tammy, seem so 'normal'.

"She stared at the full-length mirror on the back of the bathroom door, her gaze critical. she ignored her sallow skin, her sunken eyes - she hadn't slept well last night - and focused on her body. And she despaired. You're fat, the Thin voice lamented, as it had the morning before, as it had ever since Lisa first heard the voice speaking to her . You're so fat. "

At first I was a little confused with the introduction of 'Famine', and Lisa's easy acceptance of her new role, but when I realised it is a metaphor for Lisa's internal struggle with her disease I found it easier to read. Lisa's constant struggle to try and make herself worthy of her boyfriend is taking a toll on her sanity, and it is only when she begins to realise this, that she can start to fight back.

"It also occurred to her that she had, somewhere along the way, completely lost her mind."

I have to add that a welcome lighter note is introduced when we meet Lisa's steed who loves pralines, and the fact that Death "... bore more than a passing resemblance to a dead alternative rock singer"

One of the saddest things for me in this story is Lisa's inability to see what a strong person she really is. She feels she has no willpower because she keeps thinking about food, when in fact her will power is immensely strong, in that she is always able to avoid eating the food she's thinking about.

Ms. Kessler states in an afterword that she has some experience of bulimia and anorexia, and this shows in her writing. She describes certain rituals that Lisa and her best friend Tammy perform, and the details were so precise and frightening they almost broke my heart. 'Hunger' is raw and hard hitting - it doesn't pull any punches, but it is a book well worth reading.

I have never personally encountered anyone who is anorexic or bulimic. It is an area that I confess I know very little about and I have often wondered how someone could 'allow' themselves to get into such a state. After reading this book I have a very different view of the matter. Both anorexia and bulimia are diseases, in the same way alcoholism is and a person who has either has little or no control over it and needs help. This book was a learning experience for me, wrapped in an enthralling story.

If you have read and enjoyed Purge or Winter Girls, try Hunger out. You won't be disappointed.

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