“Holding up the universe” Jennifer Niven

Rated 3 stars *** ARC. Published October 4, 2016. Alfred A. Knopf. 391 p.

holdinguptheuniverseAfter her mother died when she was 11-years-old, Libby Strout felt so sad and burdened with grief that only food could lessen her pain. Her father used cooking to assuage his own grief, and the combination soon caused her to balloon to 653 pounds.

Jack Masselin spent his life building things from scraps, but nothing could help him build up his own life as everyone, including his own brothers and parents, were strangers.

Libby and Jack meet under unusual circumstances, gradually learning to depend upon each other for mutual support. As high school life threatens to tear them down, the two of them face their worst fears in order to move forward.

Through alternate chapters Libby and Jack tell their stories of feeling different for circumstances out of their control, while learning the importance of unity in the face of diversity.

Recommended for ages 14 and older.

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“Girls like me” Lola StVil

Rated 5 stars ***** ARC. Published October 4, 2016. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 310 p.

girlslikemeUsing a poetic style of writing, along with text messages, St. Vil tells the story of Shay, a lonely, overweight 15-year-old girl. Shay has learned to constantly eat to cope with the pain of bullying and missing her dead father, as it helps her forget she’s fat and alone with her evil stepmother. Her gay best friend Dash, and her dying-of-cancer friend Boots assure her she is beautiful and funny, but even they can’t give her the help and support she finds from eating.

A chance encounter with a boy in a chat room leads to days spent laughing and chatting online. Soon her humor and his wit combine to form love, but is it possible to fall for someone you’ve never met? Shay believes staying online is enough, and resists all attempts for them to meet in person. She is certain that once he meets her he will run away, so is willing to settle for second best. Can she learn to overcome her fear and stand up for herself?

“Girls like me” tells Shay’s, Dash’s and Boot’s stories of loneliness, friendship and heartache, along with the ups and downs that come with being seen as “different” by their peers. It is a story every teen should, hopefully, learn from as they read.

Highly recommended for ages 13 and older.

“Sugar”Deirdre Riordan Hall

Rated 5 stars ***** ARC. Published June 1, 2015. Skyscape.

SugarAs a little girl, Mercy’s mother caught her eating sugar out of a bag and nicknamed her “Sugar.” She and her brothers were encouraged to eat more than normal because their mother didn’t want skinny kids. As a result they grew fat, while their morbidly obese mother was confined to bed with various ailments.

Now 17 years old, Sugar cooks, cleans and cares for her mother and younger brother, while enduring cruel verbal and physical abuse from them about her weight. Constant bullying at school makes eating sweets the only thing that appeases the cruelty she experiences daily, trapping her in a vicious cycle of eating to feel better then hating herself for gaining weight.

Sugar’s life changes when she meets Even with an “e” not an “a.” Even is a senior at her high school who sees the person Sugar wishes she could be, and encourages her to come out of the shell she’s been in her whole life. As Mercy begins to blossom under Even’s kindness, the reality of her cruel world soon forces her to a crossroads.

“Sugar” was beautifully written and, at times, brought me to tears. The struggles someone who is overweight goes through are hauntingly brought to the surface, and are eye openers. It will educate readers to their sufferings, and help us see them in a whole new light.

Highly recommended for 16 and older.

“A Trick of the Light” Lois Metzger

Rated 5 stars ***** 2013. Balzer & Bray (HarperCollins). 196 pp. Includes “Author’s Note” and a list of books on eating disorders.

ATrickOfTheLightMike and his friend Tamio enjoyed watching Ray Harryhausen movies, discussing his stop-motion method of filming and the many creatures he brought to life using this technique. When his mother began to spend her days sleeping and his dad left home after he found a young girlfriend, Mike’s life started to go downhill. Keeping his problems at home a secret from Tamio, Mike began to listen to the voice in his head telling him to reinvent himself.

After he adds being rejected by a pretty girl at school to his list of problems, Mike is sure becoming fit and having a strong mind will be the answers to everything that ails him. The voice in his head urges him to become friends with Amber, a girl going through her own problems, and she gives him tips on how to shop for food and how to eat less.

Mike loves his new body and how running and exercising make him feel. He shuts himself off from everyone except Amber, and revels in his new powers of self-control. Unfortunately Mike’s new body begins to betray him, and he will have to learn to silence the voice in his head before it’s too late.

“A Trick of the Light” enlightens readers that males also suffer from eating disorders, and offers insight to this hidden population.

Recommended for readers aged 14 and older.

NEW UPDATE!: Lois Metzger was kind enough to let me know that the paperback edition of this wonderful book will be published on September 23. It will include a new section called “10 Things You Probably Didn’t Know About Eating Disorders.” She also noted the book was listed on ALA’s Best Fiction for Young Adults (compiled by YALSA) and was also on the Bank Street College Best Children’s Books of the Year list. Congratulations, and thanks Lois!

“Paper Valentine” Brenna Yovanoff

Rated 1 star * 2013. Razor Bill (Penguin Group). 304 pp.

PaperValentineHannah misses her best friend Lillian. Hannah was always the shy one of their group, with brave Lillian having no problem telling everyone else what to do and how to do it. With Lillian dead, Hannah feels small, alone and cowardly. She fills her days thinking of Lillian and her struggles with food which, ultimately, caused her to die. Before long Lillian’s ghost joins her, and the two girls are reunited in a strange friendship between a ghost and her former best friend.

Death comes again to her small town when several young girls are murdered, surrounded by toys and paper valentines. Lillian is sure Hannah can help find the serial killer, but Hannah is too afraid. She’s too shy to talk to Finny, a hulking young delinquent with a heart of gold, and is sure she has nothing to add to the police investigation.

Once the ghosts of all the dead girls begin to haunt her, Hannah wills herself to uncover the mystery of the paper valentines before someone else gets killed. Hannah has spent her life drifting in the shadow of others, and will have to step out on her own to take charge and help others so she can help herself.

I found “Paper Valentine” to be very slow, and almost stopped reading it several times due to boredom.

Therefore I will leave it up to you to decide if You want to Read It or Not.

Listed on the ALA (American Library Association’s) Best Fiction for Young Adults list (compiled by the Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA).

“Sacred” Elana K. Arnold

Delacorte Press, 2012. 354 pp.

SacredScarlett’s older brother died suddenly, which means her life has fallen apart and nothing will ever be the same again. Her mother is lost in grief and sleeping pills, while her dad drifts through his days. Scarlett is alone and lost in her own grief, so becomes anorexic to deal with her pain and shuts herself off from life. Her normal teenage high school life has become a burden – until she meets Will.

Will, he of the big, beautiful, green eyes. Will, who causes her heart to race with anticipation, while electricity shoots through her from his kisses. Will, who gives her life new meaning. Life for Scarlett is now full of sunshine and rainbows – even when Will tells her of his strange gift. Nothing can change how she feels about him – even when he dumps her.

Watching Scarlett go through her various “woe is me” phases was quite painful. Her reaction of not knowing what to do with her life anymore when she and Will broke up was the biggest pain of all. Her co-dependence was just like Bella with Edward in “Twilight,” which was just as painful. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to shut the book in frustration, or keep reading to see if she got a grip.

The many emotional ups and downs evinced by Scarlett may be off putting to some, as it was to me, so I will leave it up to readers aged 13 and up to decide if they want to Read it or Not. To give more pain (or joy if you really loved it), Arnold has decided to grace us with part 2, “Splendor,” which is slated to come out in the Fall.

By the end of “Sacred” Scarlett had grown a backbone, but was still co-dependent. It remains to be seen how “Splendor” will play out for her.

“The Stone Girl” Alyssa B. Sheinmel

ARC (Advanced Reading Copy). On sale August 28, 2012. Alfred A. Knopf (Random House Children’s Books). 215 pp.

All her life, Sethie has known what she’s wanted to do, then has gone out and done it. She’s gotten all A’s at school, scored over 2000 on her SAT’s, written all her college essays, sent out her college applications, made Shaw her boyfriend, and is awaiting graduation from high school in a few months.

One of the most important accomplishments she’s achieved is paying attention to her weight. She is tired of feeling all the fat accumulate between her thighs, on her belly and all over her body so, just as she’s challenged herself to be perfect in other areas of her life, Sethie is applying perfection to herself. She has managed to get her weight down to 111 pounds, but finds even that to be too fat. Having recently discovered how to throw up her food, she is ecstatic.

When Sethie finds out Shaw, the love of her life, doesn’t want to be with her anymore her world crashes down around her. Since she can’t control how he feels, Sethie feels there is only one thing she can control: her weight. As she continues to get skinnier and skinnier, her health declines, and other physical problems begin to manifest themselves. Without help, it will just be a matter of time before Sethie really turns into the stone girl she already feels she’s become.

“The Stone Girl” casts an uncompromising view at the world of the Anorexic and Bulimic teenager, colored through the experiences of the author who’d also had similar problems when she was a teen. High school teens who read “The Stone Girl” will not only be educated on what to look for in their friends who may be suffering from similar weight loss illnesses, but may also recognize themselves within its pages and seek the help they need.