For a novel which is centered on body image, this one sure objectified and dissed other types of body. It’s not just fat-shaming that's a problem, it’s also male objectification which was rife in this novel as it is in far too many books I've read, too many of which are YA stories that have proved as laughable as they are shameful, and I find it hypocritical in the extreme. How can an author write a novel that features a person resolved to take charge of her life - which is this case she conflates with her body, and perhaps understandably so - and so was focused on body image, while abusing the bodies of others?
At one point I read, "She’s plump, but not fat, still attractive. She’s one of those girls who is clearly somewhat overweight" - like there is some point on a sliding scale of weight gain where a woman becomes downright ugly. The fact that this sliding scale is purely skin deep is evidently irrelevant to this character (or this author who is writing the character). That was one of the problems with Jennifer Carpenter, the main character who tells this story. She's so shallow herself and it seems the more weight she loses, the more ugliness in her it reveals, which is quite the contrary to what she thinks she's achieving.
The book had snide comments like that quite often and they seemed to get worse the more weight Jennifer lost. This includes what might be termed thin-shaming, which is just as nasty as fat-shaming, but which gets nowhere near the same attention. There was also appearance shaming, such as when Jennifer refers to an older man's hair: "though his hair is thinning it’s a full head of hair." like losing one's hair is something debilitating and ugly, or something that diminishes a person. Men have far less control over hair loss than women do over weight loss, and yet this is seen as a fair target? It's somehow fine to make bald jokes, but fat jokes are off limits? I don't think you can have this goose and eat the gander too. Hair is seen as a sign of youth and virility, but the truth is that it’s testosterone which contributes to male pattern baldness!
The novel also indulges in precisely the opposite - what might be called Glute Glorification? Beauty Blinging? The number of times Jennifer objectifies her personal trainer, Matt, is laughable. I read things like: "Matt greets me in a black tank that accentuates his perfectly sculpted arms and hints at the pecs." Jennifer's best friend is named Autumn, and she's dating Matt, yet Jennifer has no problem with ogling him and considering him fair game. I read, "I look up at him, he smiles at me and I wonder how happy he and Autumn really are. He seems pretty glad to see me and Autumn doesn’t usually take her relationships very seriously." So her best friend's boyfriend is fair game?
This is made even worse by the fact that Jennifer never tells Autumn that she's training with her boyfriend. This was sad because the author apparently expects us to believe that Matt never mentioned to Autumn that "Hey, guess who I'm training now? Your friend Jennifer!" This was beyond credibility. Neither of them had taken any sort of vow of secrecy to keep this from Autumn (why would they?!), so why expect us to believe Matt never mentioned it?
This is a sign that a writer wants to set a certain train in motion in her story, but is too lazy or thoughtless to do the work to make it seem natural - or at least natural enough that a reader would be ready and willing to let it go. This was the first time this story really pulled me up and told me: hey, you’re reading a story! It was amateurish and unnecessary.
I’d thought it a bit odd that Autumn, as her best friend and also a fitness trainer, wasn't giving Jennifer tips and encouragement in getting fit and losing weight, but maybe Jennifer simply wouldn’t listen? On the other hand, Autumn, even knowing how inexcusably mean Jennifer's brother has been to her, felt no compunction about dictating to Jennifer how she should live her life: "I know you and Billy never got along but he’s still your brother, Jenn. I shouldn’t be the one to tell you this stuff" No, Autumn, you shouldn't! It’s none of your damned business, and you weren't the one her brother shamed and denied and insulted in front of his friends!
I don’t buy into this happy ending and family has to come together horseshit that is so pervasive in novels, movies and TV shows. Families are not always like that and it’s dishonest to pretend otherwise. The author tries to win our sympathy for Billy by having him suffering some malady which goes unspecified for the longest time. It didn't win mine. Billy's behavior was inexcusable and he deserved what he got, whatever it was, for being such a jerk. I’ll bet Autumn never dictated to him that he should reconcile with his sister. Jennifer hasn’t done anything wrong there, yet Autumn is putting it all on her like it’s her fault! Perhaps she deserves Jennifer trying to steal her boyfriend? That doesn't make Jennifer a nice person though.
Most of the writing was technically pretty good, even thought it was worst person voice, but there were some lapses. At one point, after repeatedly hitting the reader with the sixty-two pounds Jennifer had lost, the author refers to the last time Jennifer met these people when she was "almost sixty pounds heavier.” What happened to the sixty-two pounds? Isn’t that over sixty pounds heavier?! But the worst part about it is that Jennifer, who began as an interesting story-teller, seems to be on a downward spiral.
She met this guy Rajeev, who is clearly interested in her - as a friend if nothing else, but when Jennifer goes to a party and meets him for only the second time, he comes over to greet her and she rudely dismisses him as soon as she sees Matt come through the door. At this point I really did not like her at all, which was a one-eighty from how I began this novel in some admiration of her willpower and work ethic in losing weight. It didn’t help that she now, if not before, saw herself only in terms of her worth to a man: "I’ll be worth a guy like him." What a moron!
Her diet doesn't seem to have educated her about food, either. In Chapter nine, I read that she'll "load up my plate with celery, carrots, tomatoes (but only a few—they’re loaded with sugar". Carrots actually have more sugar than tomatoes, if only by a smidgeon. Celery does have very little, but Jennifer is missing the point: these are sugars in whole foods - not like the mounds of sugar added to a cola or to yogurt (which is more sugary in organic form than in other form, believe it or not!).
The point about eating sugar in whole food - like a fresh fruit or a vegetable - is that it’s an integral part of the whole food and your body processes it rather differently from the added mass sugar in all the appallingly bad foods which people eat. It’s not the same threat in other words, so her concern is misplaced at best. You'd think with all the reading she's supposedly done thus far, she'd be a bit better informed. Or the author would be! It took me five minutes to 'research' this. You’d think Jennifer would have bought a good book on the topic and or watched a few documentaries about diet and health, rather than simply rely on Internet sources which can be dubious, but she doesn’t. Neither did the author apparently.
It may well have been that Jennifer improved her outlook later in the story but she was taking so long to wise up that I was sick of her by this point. I couldn't face reading any more about her, and I DNF'd the entire book, glad to be rid of it and have the opportunity to move on to something else. From what I read, the book was awful and I cannot commend it.