The chocolate went first, then the cheese, the fries, the ice cream. The bread was more difficult, but if she could just lose a little more weight, perhaps she would make the soloists’ list. Perhaps if she were lighter, danced better, tried harder, she would be good enough. Perhaps if she just ran for one more mile, lost just one more pound.
Anna Roux was a professional dancer who followed the man of her dreams from Paris to Missouri. There, alone with her biggest fears – imperfection, failure, loneliness – she spirals down anorexia and depression till she weighs a mere eighty-eight pounds. Forced to seek treatment, she is admitted as a patient at 17 Swann Street, a peach pink house where pale, fragile women with life-threatening eating disorders live. Women like Emm, the veteran; quiet Valerie; Julia, always hungry. Together, they must fight their diseases and face six meals a day.
Yara Zgheib’s poetic and poignant debut novel is a haunting, intimate journey of a young woman’s struggle to reclaim her life. Every bite causes anxiety. Every flavor induces guilt. And every step Anna takes toward recovery will require strength, endurance, and the support of the girls at 17 Swann Street.
Thanks to NetGalley for this ARC!
THE GIRLS OF 17 SWANN STREET is a poignant and haunting story of a girl who is battling anorexia only because those around her want her to “get better”. Her demons and self-loathing have caused her to deny herself foods that she used to love. Her marriage is slipping away, full of unspoken words as Anna becomes thinner and thinner. Finally, her husband brings her to 17 Swann Street, where she will undergo treatment.
The author’s way of demonstrating the character’s struggle is intense – the reader is thrown into Anna’s mind through internal rumination and flashbacks, which serve to illuminate the deepest thoughts of an anorexic. Anna is not sure if she wants to live or die, even as those around her suffer with the same affliction and vanish. Throughout the course of the story Anna’s fate remains uncertain, as she takes one step forward and two steps back. Her struggle to consume enough calories under the watchful eyes of the clinic staff (who go un-named in an effort to dehumanize them, an excellent tactic by the author) is laid bare as she is shamed publicly for hiding a small bit of cream cheese in her napkin and then throwing it out.
As I read I wondered when Anna was just going to give up – her character is severely depressed and tragic. She does everything in her power to drive her husband away, despite his constant visits. She battles the staff over each mouthful of food she is forced to eat. In fact, she is such a morose person that at times I wished she would make a choice, rather than simply give up. However, it sounds like the author either did excellent research or she has personal experience with the disorder, because Anna’s behavior is exactly what you would expect from someone with depression and concurrent anorexia.
The book is an easy read – I got through it in one day because I was driven to know what would happen to Anna. As I mentioned before, at times I wasn’t sure if I was on her side or not. It was heartbreaking to see her shunning her husband, who clearly adored her. It was frustrating to see her work really hard, then seemingly change her mind and give in to her old habits. Self-care is not easy when you hate yourself, and Anna’s character is proof that the mind can be an evil, overpowering entity that robs one of the ability to control their life. I felt the cold fingers of depression reaching for me once I finished the book – it’s so real that it gets into your own head and makes you wonder if you are ok, if you will be ok.
Want your own copy of this haunting book? You can pick it up here.