Beth and her three friends Jenny, Rachel, and Melanie decide to go on a diet together. They are your typical high school girls, interested in boys, looking pretty, and each with their own troubles as everyone has. The girls go in on a diet pact in order to give support to one another, and each one has a goal weight that she wants to achieve. Beth, the novel's main character, first begins the diet with exercise and a minimal healthy diet. But soon into the diet, it becomes an obsession for her. The diet is then about more than just losing weight and being healthy, and Beth doesn't know why she is doing it, only that she has to. Every morning when she discovers more weight lost, she feels triumphant. After the chaos of her family breaking apart, this is finally some measure of control restored to her.
Beth doesn't stop when she reaches her target weight. Her mother has noticed something wrong, and her boyfriend/friend Jeremy sees the change in her as her clothing begins to hang off of her and her bones protrude. Despite his attempts to get her to open up about her diet, she won't. Her three friends finally find happiness and drop out of the diet, but Beth can't seem to stop. Instead of eating healthy and within proportion, she is starving herself to the point of passing out. Beth has no energy left, her skin is pale, and she is no longer happy. Beth is undoubtedly anorexic.
Anger and sadness trigger something in her that sets her off on a food binge. Naturally, her binge upsets her to the point where she engages in bulimia. As the book description says, Beth has every reason to be happy with her life, yet she is not. But we all know how teenagers are: every second is a second closer to the world ending for them. Some always fell prey to social pressures and expectations because they are so weighted and obvious.
This book was personal for me because I have struggled with an eating disorder for over half my life. I have been anorexic since I was a teenager, and I did it for no other reasons but pure vanity and a need to control something in my life. And I continue to do so. No, I am not proud of myself, I am only disclosing this to say that I understand what Beth and her friends go through. I certainly know what it is like to be a teenage girl succumbing to all of the pressures of that age. There is tremendous stress on teenage girls to look perfect, and perfect is hard to achieve. After a while, it takes you over. I applaud author Nicole Barker for taking on such a serious and sensitive topic. It's not something a lot of people talk about. That Barker shows us the progression of eating disorder, how it can quickly get out of control, helps people understand that sometimes it's not always rational. Sometimes you cannot apply logic and expect that to fix the problem. Through Beth, we see the humanity behind eating disorders, and as such they are more than, "oh no, that's bad, you should stop."
A lot of people see eating disorder as a cause-effect issue. And while there is a cause, sometimes it is so complex that it cannot be easily pinpointed and reasoned out. Therefore, it is hard to cure. Barker portrayed that accurately in giving Beth's problem so much complication and depth. I don't know if Barker herself has ever had a problem with anorexia, but she got a lot of the body issues and emotions involved correct. You do get weak, you do end up losing the energy that you once had, and you do end up getting depressed from lack of nutrition and body unhappiness. Of course, there are other things not experienced by Beth in the book that are true to anorexia. For example, you become very intolerant to the heat and to the cold, you get shaky, you start to breathe heavily when doing the smallest thing.
I very much enjoyed this quick read. The book is 170 pages, which means you can read it in one day if you have nothing else to do. Beth's character is compelling and honest, and it really does reflect the difficulties of being a teenager girl. Barker captured the voice of youth nicely and convincingly.