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: Skinny by Donna Cooner

Donna Cooner
ISBN 978-0-545-42763-0

High school is hell.  I remember the horror of being a teen-aged girl.  Few of us were comfortable in our skin, justifiably so.  We felt ugly.  We had uni-brows, bad skin, horrendous hair and less-than-perfect bodies.

Ever Davies’ high school experience is worse.  She has struggled with her weight for as long as she can remember, but she did it alongside her cherished mother.  Five years after losing her mom, it is clear that Ever stopped fighting. She is 5’ 6” and weighs 302 pounds.

This is why people think terrible thoughts about her.  Ever knows what everyone is thinking, the Goth fairy on her shoulder (named Skinny), tells her.  People are disgusted by her obesity.  Her two step-sisters acknowledge her only when her assistance is needed.  Jackson, a boy that was one of her best friends growing up, stopped speaking to her years ago.  Ever wants him back, as more than a friend, but she knows her weight is the issue.  Determined to reclaim Jackson, Ever has gastric bypass surgery.

Her other best friend since childhood, the one that didn’t abandon her as she gained weight, went through the surgery and healing process with her every step of way.  That was Rat, always there, always dependable, and always, her Rat.

As the pounds melt away, The Beautiful People start to speak to Ever.  Are they being kind, or calculating?  With Skinny whispering in her ear, Ever can’t be sure.  One thing Ever is sure about: Jackson has noticed.  Clearly, the surgery was worth it.  Now, she can have everything she’s dreamed of.  As her “new friends” get closer, Rat seems further away.  She’ll address that soon, it’s Rat, he’s always there for her.

Ever begins to hear things for herself, rather than through Skinny.  Is it possible that her weight wasn’t an issue?  If she appeared to be angry and hateful, it was only in defense………wasn’t it?  Shouldn’t she be ridiculously happy right now, instead of feeling confused, as if something was missing? Being smart, Ever is quick to realize that she has lost more than just extra pounds, but is it too late?

Ms. Cooner perfectly captures teen angst, attitude and dialogue.  Anyone that has felt left out due to a physical trait will relate to and root for Ever.  The story is sometimes sweet, sometimes hilarious and sometimes very sad; but it is a fantastic story from beginning to end.  The characters were very realistic.  I quickly became attached to Ever—I wanted to yell at her, to hug her and sometimes, to shake her.   I enjoyed this book tremendously, and I will certainly be looking forward to whatever Ms. Cooner writes next.

Reviewed by jv poore, February 2013.