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Book Review: Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend

Book:  Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend by Matthew Dicks

Rating: ♦♦♦◊◊

Synopsis Snippet: Budo is lucky as imaginary friends go. He’s been alive for more than five years, which is positively ancient in the world of imaginary friends. But Budo feels his age, and thinks constantly of the day when eight-year-old Max Delaney will stop believing in him. When that happens, Budo will disappear.

The Cast:  Rather an interesting mix of various Imaginary Friends of differing levels of imagining.  From specks on walls that only blink to feisty fairies who fly and scold to nearly completely humanoid characters missing only a few aspects such as eyebrows or legs.  Budo has seen many an imaginary friend in his day!  Budo’s imaginer: Max, is a young boy on the Autism spectrum whose social interactions are rather limited.  Budo explores more and sees a few characters of slight diversity.

Romance Aspects: None to speak of, though Budo seems to have an almost crush on one of the women he observes on his nightly jaunts to a local gas station.

Language: The writing was a simple and a bit juvenile in places; as though listening to Budo who, while more intelligent than the boy who imagined him, is still rather young in mind.

Fat treatment: Nothing great but no epic moments of failure come to mind.

Review: The premise is great; a story about one boy as seen through his imaginary friend Budo. Humor, learning about Max’s difficulties in navigating his world and need for his imaginary friend and the actual suspenseful plot bits were great. However, there was a lot of repetition and extra bits that just dragged the pace down for me. I had to push through the last 1/3 of the book despite that being where the plot all started to wrap up because I was pretty sick of Budo whining by that point.

Great Quotes: Some awesome tidbits that might get your curiosity going.

“I wish there was a Heaven. If I knew there was a Heaven for me, then I would save Max for sure. I wouldn’t be afraid because there would be a place to go after this place. Another place. But I don’t think there is a Heaven, and I definitely don’t think there is a Heaven for imaginary friends. Heaven is only supposed to be for people who God made, and God didn’t make me. Max made me.”

“You have to be the bravest person in the world to go out everyday being yourself when no one likes who you are.”

Final Verdict: If you liked Room you will find much to love in Matthew Dicks’ novel.  While I did feel that some of the repetition was over-kill by the end the endearing qualities and down-to-earth reflections Budo makes throughout will get you thinking and, if you find someone else to read it, give you lots to discuss!

So, have you read this yet?  Would you now want to? Would you suggest it to someone else?

YA Book gets something right (The Predicteds by Christine Seifert)

Thief... addict... delinquent... murderer... Your future is not your own

I haven’t finished the book but I’m about a third of the way into The Predicteds by Christine Seifert (a YA books with sci-fi undertones about using science to predict a person’s future potential for criminal acts or other behaviors).

I’ve come to a scene which I feared was going to derail this book into the hated Fat Trope territory and was so happily surprised to meet a main character I found sympathetic and reasonable.  In YA lit!  When surrounded by Fat Talk!

I seriously smiled and clapped for the author.

While the character is not the large and confident fatty I’d love to read about she’s at least got some lovely perspective on the Fat Talk Phenomenon that was rather awesome and worth applauding.

Let’s hear it for someone getting it right for a change!

 

Here’s the quote:

“God, I’m fat,” January says, looking down at her scrawny legs, her skinny arms dangling at her side.

“You are not,” Dizzy says. Then she sighs heavily and pushes her plate away from her. “I shouldn’t be eating this. I’m going to look like a cow in that [bathing] suit.” She glumly tosses the top back in the bag. Dizzy is hardly fat. Nevertheless , she and January continue to go back and forth about who is fatter, each claiming to be a bigger blimp than the other.

I heard these kinds of conversations before at Academy. I understand that it’s a ritual, something that is supposed to make girls feel better, but it never does, because the conversation always repeats, stuck in a loop forever. I feel lucky that I have never been part of this. I’ve just never felt bad about my body. I’ve never felt too fat or particularly skinny. Melissa [my mom] did something – at some point in my life – that made me feel okay about who I am. Too bad she couldn’t bottle that and sell it. We’d be rich.

(Page 102, The Predicteds)

Notes in brackets are my additions to make the out of context quote a bit easier to place IN context. While I’m not sure I fully believe there are many teens out there who don’t have body issues I would LOVE to live in a world where that was more the norm.  The fact that such a scene with Fat Talk/Fat Bashing could even take place in a YA novel and have the main character remark that it seemed to be an entirely silly and self-defeating ritual was encouraging to me.  Perhaps one of the first and largest steps towards self acceptance (and acceptance of the rights of others to the same) is to step out of these negative rituals, to see them for the damaging hate-fests they are and begin to see them as NOT a part of necessary social discourse.

I remain ever hopeful that such could at one point be the case!

Great passage from a book about a fat character

I’m currently reading the book “Heft” by Liz Moore.  I’m nearly finished but before I have to return the book I had to jot down this rather touching and beautiful moment from a book full of them.

I *MAY* be particularly partial to it due to the character’s name but mostly I love the inclusion of a fat character who ISN’T hated by everyone on sight, particularly the main character.  It is refreshing in a book with one 500 lb main character and one small teen boy character.

I’m only about 50 pages from the end and despite this being a book I worried about from the start (worried that it would be all about trying to slim the 500 lb man or otherwise berate him) it has been a touchingly honest portrayal of two vastly different and troubled lives that I have really enjoyed reading.

Hey April*, I say.

She waves at me without turning. She’s nothing like Trevor. She’s very smart and has long hair all the way down to her butt and she wears glasses every day and reads all the time and is even reading now at the island. She’s very fat which I think Trevor and his entire family are embarrassed of. She’s more than plump. Her body swallows the stool she’s sitting on. Mrs. Cohen looks at her daughter from head to foot sometimes, I’ve noticed it, as if she is wishing to be able to do something about her, about her fatness. To do something about it the way you would do something about a leaky faucet. It is something I don’t like about Mrs. Cohen.

*Love the name choice!  I’ve rarely come across my own name in a book I’ve read and NEVER as a fat, LIKEABLE character! Yay!

Fattie Book Review: The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson

Book: The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carsons

Rating: ♦♦♦◊◊

Synopsis Snippet: Elisa is the Chosen One.  She bears the Godstone.  She prepares on her 16th birthday to marry for the sake of her country.  Who knows what mission God has lain before her as she travels to the King’s palace and into a war on the brink of spilling around her.

The Cast: It was a fun pleasure to read a Fantasy novel where characters with PALE skin are pointed out or emphasized for their differences.  The fact that I noticed it so distinctly is really telling on how infrequently that happens.  I loved it.  So, finally some reversal on racial diversity norms.  Also, some characters have DEFINITE tendencies towards FA or at least Body Acceptance which were refreshing.

Romance Aspects: This was a bit strange.  Elisa definitely gets a bit of Stockholm syndrome at one point but the plot weaves in such a way that, as a reader, you find yourself falling for the character as well.  All the romance here, by the way, was nothing outside the generic cis-hetero stuff.

Language: The writing was easy and usually plot-forwarding.  Moments of rather great writing were scattered throughout and there were not many moments that dragged.

Fat treatment: (This section will be long, hold on) Firstly: YAY!  A FAT, female, non-white protagonist!  In FANTASY!  Whoo!  Secondly: Ooof.  There are also undeniable downsides.  Princess Elisa starts as a food-gobbling, insecure, worthless and ugly feeling fatty. She, through plot points, finds herself on basically a starvation-march through the desert for a month.  That’s where she (of course) loses weight (you know, as she gains self-respect in her abilities and such it just HAS to follow that she gets slimmer, right?) The few references made to actual sizes of the girl’s body indicate the author has no idea how much weight is capable of being lost, even at such extreme conditions, in a month.  Hint: it isn’t THAT much:

“Shaking, I pull the soaking garment against my torso, hold it at shoulder level, let the hem swim in the water. It’s more than huge. it’s a tent of a gown, with armholes that scoop halfway down my rib cage, with extra gathers to allow a bust of mountainous proportion….. I am not even close to thin. Certainly not beautiful like Alodia or Cosme. But I don’t have to part my breast or press into my stomach to see my Godstone.”

Blarg, right?  I mean, I love that she floats in the tub after this overly long because she’s “not done being naked” but HATE that it has to ONLY happen when she’s discovered she has a smaller body.  Be proud you walked so far in such harsh conditions when you’ve led an otherwise protected palace life, that’s awesome.  But enough already with the lost-weight as personal growth already authors!!  BUT there are some tenderly sweet moments with some nearly FA proponent characters I loved:

“Don’t worry, Princess.” He nods solemnly toward the gown. “A few weeks of regular food and water will set you right.”

That’s the whole comment.  Just the character remarking matter-of-factly that such a rough voyage across the desert was no fun game and their bodies would return to normal (even if normal is FAT) with non-starvation and forced-marching.  There are other such moments with this same character that I loved as well.

So, while there are great points: a few characters who are amazingly awesome in how they love Elisa for who she is NO MATTER WHAT SHE LOOKS LIKE, and a moment when Elisa laughs at the young Prince’s innocent and loud declaration “You’re Fat” is powerful, it still has strong hints of the overly-familiar “lose weight as you discover the real you and go from an Emotional Eater to one who eschews food in lieu of seeking ways to help others”.  The character supposedly still ends “not-thin” but at one point there is reference to her “taut stomach” so I don’t think the author and I agree much on what “not-thin” might mean.  So, I’d caution against reading this hoping it was all love and bunnies and FA.

Review: I liked it.  It wasn’t the best story. It was far from the worst story.  There are intriguing elements included that I really enjoyed:

  • a non-white fat female protagonist who grows into a strong and powerful girl
  • a few really wonderful side-characters who love Elisa AS SHE IS throughout the book
  • a novel look at meshing religion and magics
  • the overall plot-arc of Elisa’s emotional growth

There are elements I didn’t enjoy:

  • how the author insists on using weight-loss induced by a month of starvation-travel as another “indicator” of Elisa’s personal journey of growth
  • the rather insistent prayer and religious references become a bit much for me
  • the politics and intrigue are obviously of such an intricate nature that much more stands to be revealed in future books so you’re left hanging
  • the ending wraps up a bit too quickly despite leaving quite a few loose threads to pick up in the next installment

Still, it read fairly quickly for being such a large book and the main arc about Elisa’s coming-of-age was (mostly) worth reading.

Great Quotes: Some awesome tidbits that might get your curiosity going.

““Honor from death,” I snap, “is a myth. Invented by the war torn to make sense of the horrific. If we die, it will be so that others may live. Truly honorable death, the only honorable death, is one that enables life.”

“But with Alejandro, I always dissolve into a pool of weak helplessness. He is a good man, I’m sure of it. And so beautiful as to be dazz-ling. But I don’t like the person I am when I’m around him.”

“God’s will. How many times have I heard someone declare their understanding of this thing I find so indefinable?”

“She looks like a doll, her eyes glassy within a sculpture of frozen contentment, lips slightly parted. Gently, I reach forward and close her eyes with my fingertips, hoping it will make her seem merely asleep. But the stillness of sleep is nothing at all like the stillness of death.”

Final Verdict: I really enjoyed most of the plot arc regarding Elisa’s personal growth.  I REALLY wish the author didn’t feel that it HAD to include weight-loss and food-obsession side-plots to complete said journey. It was a mix of interesting and a bit predictable in some spots but was fairly quick to read despite the size due to the plot-moving pace of the language.

So, have you read this yet?  Would you now want to? Would you suggest it to someone else?

Fattie Book Review: Sparks

Book: Sparks by S.J. Adams

Rating: ♦♦♦◊◊

Synopsis Snippet: Since sixth grade, Debbie Woodlawn has nursed a secret, heart-searing crush for her best friend, Lisa. Side by side, they watched countless 80s sit-coms and took vows of premarital chastity. But Debbie’s never really been a fan of Full House or abstinence rallies, and all those years of pretending go down the drain when Lisa hooks up with the most boring guy at school. This earth-shattering event provokes Debbie to do the unthinkable: confess her love to Lisa.

The Cast: This is about a girl’s loving all-consuming crush on her female best friend.  So there is a good run of sexual diversity in having a rather interesting gay female protagonist.  Emma is also a recovering Eating Disordered girl so there is some (mostly hopeful and positive) Fatty representation as well.

Romance Aspects: This is about love, crushes, faith and romance.  There isn’t much sexual going on but lots of first kisses and casual mention of simple sexual concepts.

Language: The writing was a simple and a bit juvenile in places; certainly when it was bringing up episodes of Full House and other 80’s retro imagery.

Fat treatment: A rather nice side-plot features the love “triangle” with one corner held up by the rather charming and usually independently confident Emma.  I don’t want to spoil the plot “twists” but will say that I was happily surprised by how the plot-lette went.

Review: This was cute. Debbie has a serious crush on her best friend Lisa. After 5 years of crushing and watching Full House episodes and attending Christian meetings with Lisa in the hopes that something would develop; Debbie decides to become “reborn” into the pretend religion of “Blueism” offered up by classmates Emma and Tim.  She plans to declare herself and her intentions, but is running out of time because Lisa has a date with Nathan tonight and has declared that she thinks he is “the one”.

Rather like a mini road-trip book which takes place in the span of one wild evening ride around Des Moines, Iowa. Debbie takes on the Holy Quest to declare her love and in the process finds out a bit about herself, faith and love.

There are lots of references to the old show Full House in there and older bands which really ring familiar to me reading it in my 30’s so I’m not sure how relevant it would be to a younger crowd (to whom the writing feels aimed) but it was still a cute and fun read..

Great Quotes: Some awesome tidbits that might get your curiosity going.

“I really hate it when people make fun of you for stupid questions, but don’t answer them. Like, when I was eight or nine I asked my dad if there were tarantulas in Iowa. he snickered and said, “Oh, yeah, they’re the size of lawn mowers. We get them all the time. Your cousin Tyler was eaten by one.” He made me feel stupid for asking, and I still didn’t know if I should be on the lookout for tarantulas.”

“I’m just glad she made up a religion like Bluedaism,” he went on. “Not one of those ones where you pray to the Goddess of Bulimia to keep you from eating.” “People do that?” He inhaled and nodded. “It’s fucking scary. She was never half as bad as some of those girls, really, but she could have easily gotten sucked into that crap.” “But instead you guys made up a religion that keeps her healthy and productive and awesome.” He smiled. “There’s no one else like her.”

“Eat!” Tim said to her. “Bluddha commands you to eat a cheeseburger.”

“She just verbally fucked the entire metro area,” said Emma. “It was pretty awesome.”

“The more I thought about it, the more it seemed like everyone in the world was a total weirdo. No one was normal, really. Maybe not even my dad.”

Final Verdict: It all happens in the span of one night and wraps up pretty much like the old sitcoms Debbie grew up on.  But it was a simple and fast read with a rather positive Fatty side-plot that I was really overjoyed to see after so many YA books which focus on Self-Improvement (aka Weight Loss) Leads to All Good Things. This won’t be something I’ll be discussing as a life-changing book but I loved its overall positivity, bit of diversity and ideas on exploring faith.

So, have you read this yet?  Would you now want to? Would you suggest it to someone else?

Fattie Book Review: Wintergirls

Book: Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson

Rating: ♦♦♦♦♦

Synopsis Snippet: Lia and Cassie are best friends, wintergirls frozen in matchstick bodies, competitors in a deadly contest to see who can be the skinniest. But what comes after size zero and size double-zero? When Cassie succumbs to the demons within, Lia feels she is being haunted by her friend’s restless spirit.

The Cast: Everyone is very pale, and starvingly striving for the thinnest they can be.  Not diverse, but intense.

Romance Aspects: This is more about the struggle to love oneself.  No romance to really speak of.

Language: The writing was harsh and beautiful.  We delve into Lia’s story from inside her own head and hear from there the things she can and cannot think/say/feel.

Fat treatment: This is about the crushing despair that can be eating disorders and self-harm.  It could be highly triggering or amazingly hopeful.

Review: This was rough. But, at the same time, one of the most touching and raw books I’ve read in a while.   It is one of the rare books that I had to read (while halfway into a less interesting book no less) all in one sitting. Fabulously written, griping characters and plot evolution, entirely enthralling. I loved reading every despairing moment as we follow Lia through her downward spiral to see if she’s able to become the “real Lia” before she joins her former best friend Cassie in real death.  Be warned, however, that it is a rather dark spiral.  While there are moments of humor scattered throughout, the passage of time brings the reader deeper and deeper into Lia’s pain and it is a rough, emotional, and despairingly brutal ride.

A brilliant look at the obsession with “Thin”, cutting, fears, personal ghosts and done in a way that wouldn’t let me stop reading until I reached the conclusion. Fabulous

Great Quotes: Some awesome tidbits that might get your curiosity going.

“There’s no point in asking why, even though everybody will. I know why. The harder question is ‘why not?’ I can’t believe she ran out of answers before I did.”

“You’re not dead, but you’re not alive, either. You’re a wintergirl, Lia-Lia, caught in between the worlds. You’re a ghost with a beating heart.”

“Here stands a girl clutching a knife. There is grease on the stove, blood in the air, and angry words piled in the corners. We are trained not to see it, not to see any of it.”

“I knew what he wanted to hear. He couldn’t stand me being sick. Nobody can. They only want to hear that you’re healing, you’re in recovery, taking it one day at a time. I you’re locked into sick, you should stop wasting their time and just get dead.”

“Food is life. And that’s the problem. When you’re alive, people can hurt you. It’s easier to crawl into a bone cage or a snowdrift of confusion. It’s easier to lock everybody out. But it’s a lie.”

Final Verdict: This was harsh.  It was beautifully written, and so realistic I could almost taste Lia’s frustration at times.  I will add again that this might be triggering for some.  The story is written from Lia’s head so every mention of food is linked (in parentheses) to its calories.  Every moment the reader is being pulled deeper into the pit that Lia is being devoured by.  It was a really powerful story.  It will certainly not describe every eating disordered self-harming girl.  But it gives a glimpse into one potential “why” (or “why not?”) that could be out there and I think the characters and story really hit the mark.

So, have you read this yet?  Would you now want to? Would you suggest it to someone else?

Being Fat: Just like being a child-hating puppy-killer. Yeah!

Some days I just want to “AAaaaarrrrg” over all the many and sundry places in which one so readily encounters fat hatred.  The latest spy-with-my-little-eye was on, of all things, the Shelfari blog.  I was just reading along a rather interestingly written piece on how to write a villain into your story when BAM I am mouth-gapingly drawn to this little gem:

One of the greatest challenges for writing memorable villains is how you signal to the reader the depth of your villain’s depravity. In the most base of cases, villains are fat, ugly, murderous, rapacious, child-hating, puppy-killing monsters who dress in all black and use too much eyeliner and from whom even the insects flee. You show they are evil by having them look physically vile, and have them do something horrific to lose them the reader’s sympathy. (emphasis mine)

Yep.  That’s right.  Being fat renders a character not only physically vile (yeah, thanks for that) but also helps create an impression of a depraved soul so without redeeming features that a reader should be 100% certain that they are never to send a sympathetic glance their way.  The fat hatred isn’t even sugar-coated here folks!

Me and my depraved fatness

Me and my depravedly evil fatness, being all physically vile at you!

I suppose I really shouldn’t feel surprise.  We’ve discussed (here even and recently) the way that fat is the fall-back trope, the short-hand descriptor, for anyone looking to instantly create an unsympathetic character in written works.  Still, seeing this as just a throw-away line in a long article on how to make a good evil character really just makes me incredibly frustrated.  Can’t we move beyond stereotypical tropes about fat being as evil as murdering freakin’ puppies*?!??

That is all for tonight’s rants.  Comments?  Additional thoughts?

ETA: Check the comments below for a rather decent response from the article’s author!

*And, apparently, wearing too much makeup.  Not even sure where to go with that one. Is it a mark against anyone who identifies as goth/emo/counter-culture? A slut-shaming point against women who dare to move beyond an “appropriate” level of face-painting?  What??