Monday, April 18, 2011

Unofficial Recommended Reading with Extreme Caution

Okay I've gone over this and over this and I just can't think of any better solution.

I love Courtney Summers' work so much it makes me want cry. If I could, I'd sleep with her books under my pillow on the minute chance I might absorb some of her brilliance while unconscious and hallucinating. In fact, it was a really bad idea for me to read Some Girls Are the day after I surrendered my manuscript to test readers. What was, "Hey, needs a little work but I think it might really be something." became in less than 24 hours, "Oh God! What have I done? Why couldn't I use some those words? Why did I have to use my stupid words? I suck!"

Alas, I just can't rationalize including her on the official Recommended Reading list because that's for people who don't want to feel like they're being punched in the face every few chapters and both  Some Girls Are and Cracked Up to Be are rife with the fat bashin' and body snarking. I haven't read any of Summers' other novels, but I plan to fix that.

Now, the thing about both of these books is that the main characters are fundamentally unlikeable. Not in an evil but charming way either. They suck. A lot. But it's so well written that you still care very much what happens to them and pretty much you're chained to the book until it's over and you're left sitting there mourning the fact that there's not more to read.

I think that's a pretty daring route to take and not one that you see very often, but the downside is that characters like that and the people they hang around, particularly in a high school setting, are gonna have crap things to say about other people, especially those peoples' bodies because that's where most of our insecurities lie.

So, the writing is amazing, the stories are incredibly engaging, and the body snarking that is in there to me feels faithful to the characters and not like the author trying to incorporate her own prejudices into the story. (And believe me, there's a difference. I told a friend of mine the other day that for this one book I was reading I could just see the author flipping through the manuscript and musing, "You know, there's just not enough fat jokes in here.") But ultimately, both books just use up way too many Sanity Watchers points to make the official list. If you've got the points to burn though, it's totally worth it.

Also, POSSIBLE but not really SPOILER trigger warning:

Both have very graphic (necessary, not gratuitous) descriptions of sexual assault that are stuck in my head forever and I used to work in domestic violence and am not usually fazed by such things.


  1. Hi! This is babydyke. Came over from shakesville to give you some recommendations of YA books that tackle body issues sensitively. You might want to read (if you haven't already) Bound by Donna Jo Napoli and Fairest by Gail Carson Levine. The are both re-interpretations of fairy tales that tackle self-worth, body image, and feminine stereotypes. TW for foot-binding, body horror in Bound and self-esteem issues in Fairest.

  2. Wow thanks! I haven't read either of those but I'll definitely check them out.

  3. Also from Shakesville. Below are some books dealing with body issues (as it comes to weight, not other things like trying to make themselves look white like with skin lightening or physical deformities or missing limbs or hair issues or plastic surgery or anything else not involving weight.)

    Alt Ed by Catherine Atkins - it tackles fat hatred/body image, along with homophobia, rape and rape culture, bullying. Great book, though it doesn't delve very deep into fat acceptance and ends with her losing weight.

    Big Fat Manifesto by Susan Vaught - I just finished reading this and while it does talk about a lot of issues dealing with being fat (like shopping for clothes), and is about a girl who promotes fat acceptance and learns to actually feel it, I can't give a complete thumbs up. There's about it, and it came across as unrealistic even as it realistically talked about what it means to be fat in US Society. I also didn't like the characters.

    By Chris Crutcher, about male body image/fat hatred: Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes, Athletic Shorts (short story "A Brief Moment in the Life of Angus Bethune"), Angry Management (short story about Sarah and Angus).

    Life in the Fat Lane by Cherie Bennett - I haven't read it in ten years so it may not hold up, but I think it ended with a positive fat acceptance message.

    The Best Little Girl in the World by Steven Levenkron - I haven't read this one in probably ten years too (and it was written in the late 70s), so it may also not hold up.

    In my TBR pile is Laurie Halse Anderson’s Wintergirls (anorexia) and Looks by Madeleine George (anorexia and binge-eating). I've come across Skin by Adrienne Maria Vrettos, Perfect: A Novel by Natasha Friend, and Purge by Sarah Darer Littman too.

    Here's also a link to more titles.

  4. I recently read Fat Girl Dances with Rocks (blanking on the author, argh)...wish I could have given it to my younger self ages ago!

  5. Hooray! Thanks everyone this is so exciting. I was really beginning to think my list would have to be almost exclusively novels that just didn't reek of fat hate. I'm so happy that I can look forward to reading and recommending titles that could be actively helpful to young readers.