Reviews of what you should be reading next.

Tag: anorexia

The Girls of 17 Swann Street by Yara Zgheib

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.

Binary Star by Sarah Gerard


From the publisher:

The language of the stars is the language of the body. Like a star, the anorexic burns fuel that isn’t replenished; she is held together by her own gravity.
With luminous, lyrical prose, Binary Star is an impassioned account of a young woman struggling with anorexia and her long-distance, alcoholic boyfriend. On a road trip circumnavigating the United States, they stumble into a book on veganarchism, and believe they’ve found a direction.

Not every book needs to be a masterpiece. If it were so, then there wouldn’t be any pleasure in discovering uncommonly good books. For the most part, it is good enough for a book to merely know what it has set out to do, and to accomplish whatever that is in a capable manner.


Binary Star traces the codependent relationship of an anorexic astrophysics teacher and her alcoholic boyfriend. I say “traces” rather than “follows” because the reader is never allowed to deduce of him or herself what the subtext is. The outlines of every contour of every personality is writ in bold as characters’ outlines are in cartoons. It’s all tell and no show. This deficit is buried underneath layers of poetic prose and obfuscated by astrophysical metaphors that reveal the author’s imperfect understanding of astrophysics. Strip away all of the nonsense, and you would be left with a compelling 40- or 50-page short story. Instead, we have 40 pages of poetry followed by about 120 pages of prose-poetry soup reminiscent of the drunken meandering of Stephen Daedalus in Ulysses without the benefit of James Joyce’s genius.


This book, I presume, had the intention of putting a human face on the struggle of anorexia as it told its tale. However, Binary Star fails to facilitate a bond between the reader and the main character because, telling all and showing little, the book leaves the reader little room to engage her in the way that humans engage each other. We humans come to know each other by startling each other, revealing the mystery of our personalities one or several pieces at a time. There is no way for me to learn about you in a way that will get me emotionally involved if you present your life to me as a series of facts. The layers of poetry and metaphor do not change the fact that Gerard presents her characters to her readers as collections of facts rather than as dynamic, startling individuals.


The final wound on this novel is that the plot, being the strongest part of the tale, has so much difficulty finding its way out from under the heavy coats of language that it takes a back seat to the characters themselves, about who I seemed to know everything but feel nothing.


Gerard’s potential as an author is extraordinary, but I believe that little more than the fact of that potential is on display in this effort. Although I had few positive remarks to offer about Binary Star, I will await the author’s next effort.

Want your own copy? You can pick it up [easyazon_link asin=”1937512258″ locale=”US” new_window=”default” nofollow=”default” tag=”gimmethatbook-20″ add_to_cart=”yes” cloaking=”default” localization=”yes” popups=”yes”]here[/easyazon_link].

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