Wednesday, August 6, 2008

YA lit trend watch: Boys with eating disorders

It seems to me that every year there are two, maybe three books, written independently of each other and published by two separate companies, that touch on the same topic. In 2007, for example, there were two books about boys molested by their female teachers, and there were also two retellings of Hamlet. Today, I seem to have come up with two books about boys with eating disorders, which is a subject I find somewhat fascinating. So, a joint review of both.

Nothing by Robin Friedman is half verse, and half prose, in a dual first-person point of view. Parker is the older of two children. He's a super athlete, super achiever, and super pressured by his father to get into the elitest of elite colleges: HarvardYalePrinceton. Parker feels like anything short of perfection, in love, in academics, in extracurriculars, in religion, is a sign of complete and utter failure. The only thing Parker feels that he can control is his eating, or rather, his binging and purging. He knows it hurts him and he's slowly losing energy and the will to keep up with his own life, but vomiting is the only thing that makes him feel good anymore. His younger sister Danielle narrates her part in free verse. She's more the forgotten child; she has her own interests and she's smart, but it seems like she can never get out of Parker's shadow. Eventually, Parker's eating disorder catches up to him, and here Friedman effectively uses verse to show not only Parker's inability to work his brain the way he used to, but his drop in status from his family's golden child to the disappointment. Friedman manages to make both characters well-rounded and distinct, and the book doesn't read like an encyclopedia entry on eating disorders. It plays a little fast and loose with New Jersey geography, but I'm willing to forgive that in favor of the book's merits. I know teens who read about eating disorders will often read every eating disorder book they can get their hands on, and this is definitely one to give them.


Purge by Sarah Darer Littman is a semi-autobiographical novel told from the point of view of Janie, hospitalized for bulimia. In her journal, Janie chronicles her daily life and the rigor of life in a treatment center. In the center, she meets Tom, who suffers from both anorexia and bulimia. As Jenny writes about her three weeks in therapy, the reader sees the complications in her family and social life that drive her to binge and purge. Her road to recovery requires that she dredge up painful memories, but unlike Tom, Janie is lucky enough to have a family that supports her and wants to see her get better. It's readable in the same way that Lockup is watchable for me. There's something highly compelling about a book that reveals so much about a life with so few freedoms, where everything you do is controlled by someone else and all you have are your own thoughts and feelings. Readers will like Janie. She's honest in her journal the way she wouldn't be in a standard narrative. This is another one that should be popular when it comes out in spring '09.

I'm not sure if this trend of YA books involving boys with eating disorders is a trend, per se. It's not like fantasy or vampire books where you can play with the legends and genre conventions. Eating disorder books have been popular with teens for decades, anyway. What I do think is that boys with eating disorders will get more recognition, and perhaps teens with eating-disordered boy friends will help them get the help they need. Either way, it's a nice diversification of the subgenre. And of course, YA lit is doing it first.

1 comment:

^a_g_n_e_s^ said...

The Adolescent Eating Disorder Outpatient Program is conducted in a caring, safe environment where adolescents can become aware of their feelings and learn to manage life's issues without using their eating disorder.
Eating disorder