Book Review: Dietland by Sarai Walker

Sarai Walker
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, May 2015
ISBN 978-0-544-37343-3

Reading Dietland is indubitably equivalent to walking a mile in the enormous shoes of our nearly thirty year old, three-hundred-four-pound narrator, Plum. I’ve never felt that I could genuinely understand a position I’ve not actually been in. Until now. This unprecedented presentation of current social issues is more than thought-provoking. It is painful and tragic, with portions that are harsh, raw, and deserving of deliberation.

Commanding characters create empathy and sympathy as they uncomfortably reveal reasons for actions. The potpourri of concerns surrounding our narrator include: Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, female vigilantes, fat-shaming, feminism and self-acceptance. Ms. Walker unapologetically strips down her characters (yes, literally…occasionally), giving the reader circumstances and background information, along with bigger picture views that beckon the most open of minds to take in just a bit more.

Plum’s story unfolds most poignantly. The reader meets Plum in present day to fully understand her lifestyle and goals. Where she is, where she thinks she will be. Why she is being stalked.

The intriguing Stalker Girl leaves a book for Plum that upon opening mentally and emotionally whisks her twelve years back in time; to when she was about the same age as the girls that write “Dear Kitty” letters to her filled with “predictable topics…boys, razors and their various uses….” Three years of providing “big sisterly” support and advice regarding matters as pressing as “why won’t he call?” and “can a girl ask a boy out?” begins to seem frivolously indulgent.

Buried in the book, Plum gradually moves away from her daily correspondence with teen girls to spending face-to-face time with grown women. Life-goals beg re-examination. Violent acts of revenge exacted by a woman known only as “Jennifer” force Plum to consider matters she’s blissfully ignored as well as creating a bit of mystery that tickled the back of this reader’s mind with possible connections to Plum’s “work world” and new and improving small, intimate “world of friends”.

My very favorite thing about Dietland is the long list of quotes I pulled. The words grabbed me while I was reading, enough to be worthy of highlight, and that is a spectacular thing; but reviewing the quotes later, out of context…..was absolutely stunning.

My crystal ball tells me that after the May 2015 release, we are going to be hearing a lot about Dietland. I believe that it will be the “something totally different and efficacious” book of 2015.

Reviewed by jv poore, April 2015.

Book Review: Bones & All by Camille DeAngelis

Bones & AllBones & All
Camille DeAngelis
St. Martin’s Press, March 2015
ISBN 978-1-250-04650-5

From the publisher—

Maren Yearly is a young woman who wants the same things we all do. She wants to be someone people admire and respect. She wants to be loved. But her secret, shameful needs have forced her into exile. She hates herself for the bad thing she does, for what it’s done to her family and her sense of identity; for how it dictates her place in the world and how people see her–how they judge her. She didn’t choose to be this way.

Because Maren Yearly doesn’t just break hearts, she devours them. Ever since her mother found Penny Wilson’s eardrum in her mouth when Maren was just two years old, she knew life would never be normal for either of them. Love may come in many shapes and sizes, but for Maren, it always ends the same–with her hiding the evidence and her mother packing up the car.

But when her mother abandons her the day after her sixteenth birthday, Maren goes looking for the father she has never known, and finds much more than she bargained for along the way.

Faced with a world of fellow eaters, potential enemies, and the prospect of love, Maren realizes she isn’t only looking for her father, she’s looking for herself.

Maren Yearly is most certainly unlike any character I’ve met before: Maren eats people, especially people who seem to like her and, one day, Maren finds herself on her own because her mother has abandoned her out of fear for her life. Rather than fall apart, Maren sets out to find the father who has never been part of her life and, perhaps, answers to the questions that have always loomed over her.

Now, one might question the appeal of reading about a cannibal, particularly with the rather gruesome scenes that are bound to occur (and they do) but the first chapter reeled me in by starting off with Maren’s first “meal”when she was just a baby and then moving on to a scene 16 years later when her mother deserts her, finally drained of all ability to protect and love her daughter. This conjunction of two kinds of pathos led me to think I wanted to know how Maren would cope and I’m so glad I pushed on.

Bones & All is an odd story, no doubt about it, and it most likely won’t appeal to a broad spectrum of readers but this is more than just a horror novel; this is the journey a young girl must take to accept herself and, as such, Ms. DeAngelis has done a nice job. It also carries a bit of an agenda but not obtrusively and the reader is free to embrace or ignore said agenda. In the end, it’s the story that matters most.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, March 2015.