1) "Food, Girls, And Other Things I Can't Have" by Allen Zadoff
Warm, witty prose chronicles a fat teenager finding himself while the text sacrifices other demographic groups. Fifteen-year-old Andy, at 306 pounds, justifiably resents that people “don’t see Andrew. They see big.” Upset by the divorce of his cold dad and smothering mom, Andy glumly pursues Model UN with geek pal Eytan. Then a school football star rescues Andy from a beating and brings him to football tryouts. Andy’s trajectory from social nobody to popular football player is fast and deceptive. The first-person, present-tense narration capably conveys Andy’s pattern of thinking only in the present. The funniest moments are the quirkiest, as when Andy and an opposing player find themselves “talking postwar poets” on the field during the game. Unfortunately, Zadoff bizarrely dehumanizes Asian girls. Classmate Nancy Yee is “not really a girl. More of a stick figure with an accent,” Andy calls April, his Korean-American crush, “The Girl of My Dreams: Asian Edition,” and Eytan categorizes that crush as “yellow fever,” with no textual questioning of the term. Is it worth humanizing one oft-slammed group—fat teens—at another group’s expense? (Fiction. YA)
2) "Pretty Face" by Mary Hogan
Stuck in body-conscious southern California, hanging out with a perfectly proportioned best friend and living with a mom obsessed with slimming down, the overweight Hayley’s chances at happiness are as slim as she wants to be. However, when her concerned parents generously offer to send her to Italy for the summer to live with her mom’s college roommate, Hayley’s luck seems to be changing. Determined to shed pounds, Haley arrives in Umbria prepared to count calories; however, she almost immediately falls into the slow-paced rhythm of her host family that relies heavily on Italy’s rich food culture. At first guiltily giving into chewy breads and salty cheeses, Hayley soon learns that food isn’t the enemy and with determination naturally and healthily balances her weight. Beautifully written descriptions of the Italian countryside contrast with gritty details of California, highlighting Hayley’s transformation and adding depth to her character to make her much more than a pretty face. (Fiction. YA)
3) "Cinderella Ate My Daughter: Dispatches from the Front Lines of the New Girlie-Girl Culture" by Peggy Orenstein
New York Times Magazine contributor Orenstein (Waiting for Daisy, 2007, etc.) investigates the impact of early sexualization on girls.
In this witty, well-documented study, the author of Schoolgirls (1994) examines the not-so-innocent side of princess culture represented by Cinderella and her sister Disney royals. Orenstein looks at the way race-based images of idealized female beauty and behavior, themselves the product of aggressive and manipulative marketing campaigns, influence preteen girls. Before they reach kindergarten, female children have already been indoctrinated in the idea that how they look is more important than who they are. Foundations have been laid for the idea that prettiness—and a narcissistic concern with the external self—is the true path to empowerment. The main issue Orenstein addresses, however, is whether Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Ariel and Belle (and their less popular, darker-skinned counterparts, Mulan and Pocahontas) protect young girls from early sexualization or prepare them to be consumers of clothes, grooming aids, toys, music and other forms of media that seem to celebrate underage sexuality. During the course of her research, Orenstein visited the Toy Fair (“the industry’s largest trade show”), specialty “girl” stores such as American Girl Palace, the Universal Royalty Beauty Pageant for preteen girls, a Miley Cyrus concert and social-networking sites such as Webkinz and Facebook. The author discovered that while girls have more role models than ever before to show them that they can become anything they wish, they are also under much greater pressure from an extraordinarily young age to prove their femininity. That Orenstein is the mother of a young, biracial daughter makes the narrative even more readable than her bestselling earlier writings on girlhood and self-esteem. Rather than writing as a concerned but detached observer, she approaches her subject as a parent seeking practical ways to negotiate a complex cultural landscape that has been as confusing for her as a mother and woman as it has been potentially damaging for the girl she is raising.
Intelligent and richly insightful.
4) "Stranger Here: How Weight-Loss Surgery Transformed My Body and Messed with My Head" by Jen Larsen
An arresting memoir about the author's experience with weight-loss surgery.
Larsen initially lied to her mother about the nature of her surgery and didn’t tell her the truth until well after the procedure. She admits that her librarian co-workers “probably knew more than I did” about the risks and potential complications, and she spread the first payment across three credit cards. When a doctor reprimanded her for gaining, rather than losing, weight before the surgery date, Larsen asked, "If I don't lose the weight, can you still operate?" She smoked and drank heavily. After her painful recovery, she "ate whatever I could fit inside me, and suffered for it, and lost weight anyway." In the hands of a lesser writer, all of these facts could lead readers to feel judgment or disgust. Instead, Larsen's honesty and insight make for a searing account of precisely what it feels like to be fat and to have complicated relationships with food, family and friends. We understand exactly why one would look to surgery as a solution to not only excess weight, but also fear, loneliness and unhappiness. Larsen eventually lost the weight, and she also moved on from her dead-end job and her bad relationship. But though her life is measurably better, she still reels from the shock that self-acceptance did not come automatically: "You lose weight without having to develop self-awareness, self-control, a sense of self. In fact, you go ahead and you lose your sense of self.”
Raw vulnerability and rigorous emotional honesty make this weight-loss memoir compelling and memorable.
5) "Read My Hips: How I Learned to Love My Body, Ditch Dieting, and Live Large" by Kim Brittingham
Get rid of the bathroom scales and start living.
Body acceptance is not a new idea, but Brittingham's memoir has a unique voice. With engaging, well-written prose, the author encourages readers to live full and healthy lives, regardless of their weight. The book begins with Brittingham’s memories of a fat picture of herself as a teenager. In reality, she was not fat at all, and her mother’s many diets were also a product of a culture obsessed with thinness. Often compared to her "fat Aunt Phyllis," the author spent years feeling ugly and unworthy. The more she dieted, the more weight she gained. Then came her job as a counselor for the Edie JeJeune weight-loss program and her introduction to the hypocrisies of the diet industry. Brittingham's style is lively, and her message is powerful. She isn't afraid of confronting issues head-on, as evidenced when she made a fake book cover called Fat Is Contagious and took it on a bus to gauge other passengers' reactions. They weren't pretty. The author does not allow herself to become a victim. When she starred in an NBC Universal video pilot that was turned into an offensive fat stereotype, she created her own video series, Kim Weighs In.
This story doesn’t end with a skinny woman. It ends with a large, beautiful woman who revels in the joy of life.
6) "Big Fat Disaster" by Beth Fehlbaum
Colby’s life as the heavy daughter of a disapproving former Miss Texas beauty queen is difficult enough, but it gets worse very quickly once she discovers a photo of her politician father kissing another woman.
She and her mother and little sister move to a trailer in a tiny Texas community. She has an agonizing first day of school crammed into blue jeans so tight that she needs a coat hanger to pull the zipper up—and then she discovers that her cousin made a video of her trying to get into her jeans, which gets posted to Facebook. Colby copes with each terrible event the way she always has, with huge amounts of sweets followed by shame, and spirals ever deeper into depression. Readers experience the events through Colby’s present-tense narration, hearing her perceptive take on people: “Mom does that: She nods and smiles even when she thinks the person speaking is full of shit….” Fehlbaum draws a razor-sharp picture of Colby’s judgmental grandparents, her quirky teachers and, most of all, Colby herself and her terrifying mother, who can’t empathize at all. When Colby finally gets help at the end from a therapist and others, Fehlbaum makes it clear that her road ahead will be long and hard.
Colby’s experiences, while extreme, ring true, and the fast pace, lively and profane dialogue, and timely topic make it a quick and enjoyable read. (Fiction. 12-16)
7) "None of the Above" by I.W. Gregorio
Cross-country runner Kristin Lattimer is devastated when an OB-GYN diagnoses her with androgen insensitivity syndrome, an intersex condition.
Exuberant after being voted queen at the homecoming dance, Kristin decides she's finally ready to have sex with her boyfriend, Sam. Their attempt at intercourse, however, turns out to be prohibitively painful, and Kristin promptly schedules an appointment with her best friend's gynecologist. Her pelvic exam and a series of follow-ups reveal that Kristin has AIS. After she confides in two friends at a party, rumors about Kristin's condition spread, and she is ostracized. The particulars of AIS are explained in matter-of-fact detail and filtered effectively through Kristin's point of view. Kristin and her bullies use the word “hermaphrodite,” but the author is careful to note that the term is widely considered derogatory and that “intersex” and “disorder of sex development,” or DSD, are preferred. Discussions of Kristin's gender strike an equally appropriate balance: Kristin worries that her diagnosis means she's "not exactly a girl," and Sam rejects her as a "faggot," but other voices express kinder views. A supportive and warmly drawn group of side characters rounds out the story, and the figure of Caster Semenya, a runner speculated to have AIS herself, serves as a role model and figure of hope.
Sensitive, informative and a valuable resource for teens in Kristin's shoes. (Fiction. 14-18)