[TW: weight, body image, gastric bypass]
I have”¦ mixed feelings about Skinny, Donna Cooner’s debut YA novel about a teen who undergoes gastric bypass surgery. On the one hand, I’m glad it exists. On the other, I wish it weren’t quite so preachy.
Ever Davies is 15 years old and weighs over 300 pounds. She has only one close friend, loves to sing but won’t try out for the school musical and is humiliated in front of the entire student body when she breaks a chair at an awards ceremony. Having lost her mother at a young age, Ever now lives with her father, stepmother and two gorgeous stepsisters. Ever also loves fairy tales. (In case you didn’t absorb that the first time she says it, or guess it from her family structure, don’t worry. You’ll get bashed over the head with it again, and again, and again.)
Finally, Ever is tormented by an inner voice she dubs “Skinny.” Skinny is a constant, hovering presence who reminds Ever she’ll never been good enough, thin enough or enough enough for anyone. And even after Ever successfully undergoes gastric bypass surgery and starts losing weight, Skinny won’t stop talking.
Skinny author Donna Cooner is a former gastric bypass patient who wanted to share her experiences with readers. I can’t recall if there have been any YA books written on this topic, at least in the main plot. The closest thing I’ve read is a YA book published several years ago – and of course I can’t think of the title, or any Google-able information – in which the boyfriend of the happily plus-sized heroine chose to undergo the procedure. I’ve never been more than 100 pounds overweight (which is the requirement for gastric bypass), but Ever’s struggles before and after the surgery felt very authentic to me.
Because, as I’ve told some of the men in my life, I have never met a woman who hasn’t grappled with body image at some point in her life. I myself have had an eating disorder. There are issues with food on both sides of my family. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had it relatively easy compared to many of my peers, but how I perceive my physical self is still one of my number one challenges, as much as I wish it weren’t.
So in that respect, I’m glad Skinny exists. I’m glad teenage girls (and hopefully some boys), who have worried about their bodies in any way, will read this and know they are not alone. I’m glad it appears to be very realistic in its depiction of gastric bypass, which is still fairly risky and is extremely life-altering, for both the patient and those around her.
I just wish it were better written.
As I said before, the fairy tale metaphor. Ever’s illustrator mom has that whimsical name. Fine. She has a blended family, and sees her stepmom and stepsiblings as shallow and mean. Sure, okay. Her friend Rat is a bit of an ugly duckling, she wants former childhood buddy Jackson to be her prince, she gets a makeover from a popular girl for the school dance, and the musical she auditions for is – wait for it – Cinderella.
See what I mean by getting bashed over the head?
Yes, there’s a way to do the fairy tale parallel/structure/modern day-ism. This really isn’t it. Okay, so the “evil” stepfamily really turns out to be”¦ not quite so bad. Ditto the popular girl. I did appreciate that, but I could have used a couple more twists.
There’s another format Skinny follows: the after-school special.
Here be spoilers (please skip this bulleted list if you want to be surprised, though you probably won’t be because the book is really predictable):
- Ever ends up falling for her friend Rat, who’s been there for her all along, rather than hottie Jackson, who’s in love with another girl.
- After a Very Dramatic Confrontation, Ever learns that Skinny (gasp!) is actually powerless if Ever just tells her to shut the hell up. Ever also learns she’s been playing the victim more than once and alienating others.
- Ever spills out all her Feelings about everything before belting out a song from Dreamgirls – at her audition for Cinderella. (As someone who did theater for a decade and a half, this probably made me maddest. Even in high school, this really isn’t okay. Do your damn prepared monologue. Also, pick a song more suited for a Rodgers & Hammerstein musical. Cinderella’s not a belter. Someone who’s as obsessed with musicals as Ever should know that.)
- Also, guess what part Ever gets? Just guess! I would have loved if she’d been cast as the Fairy Godmother or something – and there could have been symbolism there, and I wouldn’t have been rolling my eyes. I mean, I know it’s YA, but come on.
Spoilers are done. You can keep reading.
See what I mean by “mixed feelings”? I love YA so much because it can so effectively chronicle a very specific and memorable time in one’s life, and can look at Issues in a thoughtful, intelligent way. (And that’s not just recently: how many of us learned about sex from Judy Blume’s Forever?) And I think that’s what Skinny was really trying to do. But it only somewhat succeeded.
For more about Donna Cooner, visit her http://www.donnacooner.com.