Tuesday, June 14, 2011

A New Definition to the Word "Starvation"

Hunger (Riders of the Apocalypse)
After that blasted Wall Street Journal article, I was still left bristling at its attack on Young Adult literature. Then I went back to the article and realized I (like a young adult told I couldn't/shouldn't read a particular book) wanted to read the books she said were so harmful. I had already read a bunch of them, but there were a couple I hadn't gotten to. One was Jackie Morse Kessler's Rage from her Horsemen of the Apocalypse series. But first, I needed to read Hunger, the first in the series. So thank you, Wall Street Journal, for making some very good reading suggestions, whether you meant to or not!

Lisabeth is anorexic and she's good at it. Her parents are too wrapped up in their own lives and miseries to notice how thin she has become. Her boyfriend notices something is up, and her best friend confronts her about it, but Lisa just cuts Suzanne out of her life. Tammy has become Lisa's best friend, because she understands the need for control. Tammy is bulimic. Together, they count calories, binge, purge, control, and keep hearing that voice: the Thin voice. The voice that tells them they are too fat. They need to lose more weight.

When Lisa is visited by death just before she ends her own life with a handful of her mother's pills, she is offered a compromise. If she chooses to become Famine, a Horseman of the Apocalypse, he won't take her. When Lisa wakes up the next day, she thinks it was all just a weird dream, and she goes about her life, counting calories, hiding her eating habits, and making excuses to the people in her life about her body. That night, however, there is a black horse waiting for her, and Death is back to encourage her to ride and do her job. She follows orders, but she doesn't know what is in store for her. At first, the spread of Famine is almost cathartic- a way for her to make others suffer the way she suffers every day (like spreading Famine through a rich, calorie-laden restaurant full of gluttons), but then she sees the unforeseen consequences of her actions: a little girl trampled in the panic and anger caused by hunger.

After a horrific incident with her mother, she realizes she can not only cause Famine, she can also take it away and restore people. She then decides to go out and do just that: stop Famine's torture around the world. She starts small, with a young boy starving, but then she goes bigger, ending the starvation of an entire village. This catches the immediate attention of War, a huge, scary woman who has no qualms about taking care of the mousy Famine. But Lisa has realized she isn't ready to die. She certainly isn't ready to let herself starve when there are too many people in the world who would do anything for a full stomach.

When I first read the description of this book, I thought it was ironic and not just a little morbid to make the new Famine from an anorexic girl- who better to know and love hunger than a girl who lives in a perpetual state of hunger on purpose? But the beauty of the story is that by seeing hunger- real, uncontrollable hunger- Lisa knows she needs help. She learns from the hunger of others and sees how her eating disorder is killing her. The lesson is handled well, and it isn't preachy or heavy handed, which is good because teens can smell a moral lesson from a mile away! The most special part of this story was the Author's Note at the end, where the author shared her inspiration for Lisa- a former friend who was bulimic, started Kessler's bulimia, and eventually died from her eating disorder. It is here that Kessler encourages girls who are suffering from eating disorders to use this book as a stepping stone to get help, that they are not alone in the world.

While the story clearly deals with heavy content material, from eating disorders to the Horsemen, but it isn't done with any gratuitous violence or carnage. Instead, the graphic descriptions of Lisa's anorexia and Tammy's bulimia are done with the ability to make you want to help someone who is experiencing this scary disease, not become sick yourself, as some critics of this short novel might want you to think. A story like this doesn't make kids bulimic, it gives hope to friends, family and the sick kids themselves. I wish eating disorders weren't so common, but can any of us say we don't know someone with an eating disorder or who has recovered? This is a relevant story that will leave you reeling from its implications, and applauding Kessler for having the courage to write it.

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