Thursday, May 19, 2011

Review: Skinny by Diana Spechler

We hear again and again how obsessed we as a culture are with the cult of the skinny. The media bombards us with the message that only bone thin is acceptable. The diet industry is a multi-million dollar cash cow. Weight is a health issue, a social issue, and a personal issue. And it's a rare woman who has not faced at least some struggles with weight or body image.

The main character of Spechler's Skinny, Gray Lachmann is not fat. At best, she's currently chunky. She's spent her whole life being thin but after her father's death, for which she feels culpable, she medicates herself through food, packing on the pounds. Instead of facing her grief, she eats and eats and eats until she is burstingly full. But she stays hungry. And when as the executor of her father's will, she learns of a trust set up for an unknown woman, she does some digging and discovers the existence of a teenaged girl who must be her half sister, the product of her father's affair. When she learns, via Eden's blog, that she will be spending the summer at a fat camp, Gray promptly applies for a job as a counselor, determined to meet and befriend her sister.

But Gray carries her own food and emotional demons to camp with her and rather than mentoring the campers, she stays at a remove from them. She does try to advocate for the kids as she discovers more and more just what sort of charlatan is running the camp and how unqualified and shoddy everything connected to Camp Carolinas is but she is so immersed in her own dramas, guilt over her father's death, a growing estrangement from her long-term boyfriend, a developing flirtation with the camp's buff fitness director, and her own burgeoning anorexia, that she doesn't even see so many of the things going so terribly wrong at the camp. Worse yet, Eden, Gray's entire reasno for being at the camp in the first place, has no interest in befriending Gray, wanting desperately instead to fit in with the cool girls at camp.

Written from Gray's perspective, the novel taps into the multi-faceted feelings that are so commonly associated with food issues: loathing, depression, anger, helplessness. Food is a panacea, the option that dulls the intensity of these negative emotions, at least as long as Gray is still chewing. When Gray stops eating and starts shedding the weight, she is high and powerful, superficially in control, and the storyline reflects that but it also still contains the seeds of destruction as Gray has acknowledged but not faced the root cause of her previous binging behaviour. The emotional portrayal in the novel is spot on. And while the reader might not like Gray or her decisions very much, it is clearly evident that we aren't the only ones. Gray herself doesn't like herself very much either. As Gray unravels, the plot takes some unexpected twists that make it all the better for their appearances. As often as Gray details the quirks and personalities of those around her, as characters, they stay backgrounded and a bit thin, as ironic as that sounds given that almost all of the characters are in actual fact fat. A quick read, one that kept my attention, I could relate easily to portions of the story, having fought a weight battle for much of my adult life. I don't know that it will have changed my relationship with the scale, but it certainly did give me pause, help me examine my own food demons a bit closer, and offer me an enjoyable afternoon of reading.

For more information about Diana Spechler and the book visit her webpage, her Facebook page, and follow her on Twitter.

Thanks to Trish from TLC Book Tours and the publisher for sending me a copy of the book for review.


  1. Thanks for such a thoughtful review of my book!

  2. I'm glad you enjoyed this one! I've heard many reviews say that Gray isn't an easy character to like but from your review I can see that was probably the author's intention - it makes a bit more sense now.

    Thanks for being on the tour!


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