Seventeen-year-old Maddie has always felt insecure about herself and her body; she's never been cool, smart, or pretty enough. Dieting seems like the only way she can take control of her less-than-perfect life. But nobody else understands - not her mother, not her doctor, and not even her best friend. When she finally finds acceptance and cameraderie with her GWS (Girls Without Shadows) friends on thinandbeautiful.com, her parents confiscate her computer and send her to a rehab facility to "get better". Unwilling to admit that she has a problem, and feeling unjustly separated from the support of her online friends, Maddie resists counseling, avoids group sessions, and only reluctantly begins writing a diary as part of her therapy.
An amazing first (and we hope not last) book from Liane Shaw, who battled with anorexia herself. Turtles don't have eating disorders - we are on the see-food diet, you could say. It is hard for us, as it can be for many people, to understand how someone painfully thin can look in the mirror and see the need to lose more weight. Many people imagine their must be some sort of horrible trauma leading a person to such extremes - and sometimes that is the case. One of the things we realize as thinandbeautiful.com progresses, however, is that sometimes it is just small incidents or stray thoughts that come together in the wrong way - it isn't necessarily anybody's fault that a person develops an eating disorder, and that can be a huge relief - or a source of further frustration - for family and friends.
Maddie's 'voice' is very clear, and her story captures our attention from the beginning. Other characters are not fleshed out very much, but since this story is mostly focused on the workings of Maddie's mind, that works. In many ways, Maddie is "Everygirl". Take, for example, this passage from pg. 18:
"The older I got, though, the less she [Maddie's mother] seemed to understand about real life. My real life, anyway. It's not that she was mean or anything like those evil mothers you see on TV. She was just sort of off in her own space. Motherland, where everything made sense to her in her own mind and she didn't think she had to look inside mine.She couldn't see what bothered me or scared me or embarrassed me any more, even when I tried to tell her. Like the day she took me to buy my first bra."Following is a cringe-worthy scene in which Mom is holding training bras up to Maddie's chest IN the department store, in FULL VIEW of two boys from her class. (See, you just cringed, didn't you?) Mom, of course, doesn't understand why Maddie is embarrassed, and assures her the boys probably didn't even notice. (Um...right!)
No, being embarrassed in the bra section does not cause Maddie's anorexia, but it does illustrate another important point of the book: image is everything to most teens. How other people see you - or how you think they see you - is often more important than grades, parental approval, comfort, whatever. That, in turn, explains the popularity and danger of pro-anorexia sites like the fictional thinandbeautiful.com (the real web site, run by Shaw, is quite different!)
We did a quick google search to see how easy it is to find "pro-ana" or "thinspiration" sites. Frighteningly easy! We clicked on one at random, and scrolled through messages by girls worrying that they wouldn't be able to hide their fasting at a family dinner that night, or celebrating that they had only consumed 7 calories that day (yes, 7! A chip and a stick of gum!) These girls (and there are some guys out there) are real girls, supporting each other's 'dieting', offering advice on how to hide the purging from the parents, posting their ultimate goal weights. If a normal teen weighing, say, 130 pounds, sees that other girls are aspiring to 77, what does that instantly do to that teen's body image? Scary!
The only quibble we had with the book was the addition of a love interest. Seriously? Why??? And what kind of facility rooms boys in with girls, able to go into each others' rooms unsupervised, anyway? Other than that, we couldn't put the book down, and we think teen readers will feel the same way. We give it a
4 out of 5 (the love interest thing really bugged us).