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Friday, January 19, 2018

YA Anorexia Novel Not Mind-Blowing, But Powerful Nonetheless

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

In an ongoing effort to slim down, 16-year-old Elizabeth Barnes has finally starved herself into a size 0.  Weighing only 90 pounds, she's elated with her "progress."  The side effects she's experiencing, though, are a tad concerning.  It's possible she's gone too far—it's possible she might now be "a little bit" anorexic.  Alarmed, Elizabeth's parents enroll her in a treatment program at Wallingfield, an in-patient clinic for young women with eating disorders.  Elizabeth, a studious good girl, plans to be a model patient, following the rules until she can get back home and continue her extreme weight loss regimen without nosy nurses looking over her shoulder.

As Elizabeth settles into life at Wallingfield, she finds surprising commonality with the other patients.  While they swap tips and tricks, offer sabotage and support, the girls become a close-knit family.  Elizabeth can't imagine what she'll do without them, especially when she returns home to her weight-obsessed mother.  In the meantime, she's receiving care packages at the clinic from a mysterious sender.  Could her ex-boyfriend be trying to mend their relationship?  Or is some prankster toying with her when she's at her most vulnerable?  As she attempts to claw her way back to health, Elizabeth will make some surprising discoveries—about her anonymous gift-giver, about her new friends, and about herself.

What I Lost, a debut novel by Alexandra Ballard, is an affecting story about one teen's rocky journey of self-discovery.  As she attempts to achieve wholeness and healing, she really finds herself.  Through Elizabeth, Ballard presents a candid portrait of anorexia, showing how difficult the disease is to control and how thoroughly it warps the minds of its victims.  Naturally, What I Lost does not offer a perfect ending.  It does close on a hopeful note, however, which makes it an uplifting read despite its serious subject matter.  Any teen who struggles with body image/eating disorders should find this novel both intriguing, illuminating, and empathy-inducing.  Issue novels abound in YA lit; while this one isn't all that original or mind-blowing, it's still powerful.  


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

for language (no F-bombs) and mild sexual content

To the FTC, with love:  I bought a copy of What I Lost with a portion of the millions I make from my lucrative career as a book blogger.  Ha ha.


  1. I can’t even imagine how people could ever become anorexic. But I know it happens and any book that can talk about it is important.

  2. Have you read Wintergirls? Is it anything like that? I had a hard time with Wintergirls because of how it was written. I'm wondering if they read the same way.

  3. This is such an important topic that I think it's okay the novel isn't perfect. It sounds like it puts the issue out there in an honest way, which is what matters most.

  4. I've been seeing this one around a bit and have wondered if it held up. I've had my own struggles growing up, so this might be a really interesting book to pick, though it's a bummer to see it wasn't quite as great as it could have been. Great review!

  5. Books like this always appealed to me when I was a teen, but I don't read them very much any more. But I'm glad they're still writing them. :)

  6. Good review! I rarely read contemporary YA, but it sounds like this novel does a good job of exploring what anorexia is like from the inside, giving the rest of us a better understanding of how it affects people.

    1. I meant to say, I rarely read contemporary YA anymore. I did read some when I was younger. YA fantasy, OTOH... I read a fair bit of that these days.


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