By Jackie Morse Kessler
Available October 18 from Graphia (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
This review is part of a T2T Tour. My interview with Jackie will be posted later today.
Lisabeth Lewis sees herself as a healthy teenager girl. She doesn't eat junk food and she works out every day. But her former best friend Suzanne and boyfriend James don't see it that way. They've started asking her questions. Oh yes, and the other night Lisa tried to commit suicide. Not only is she still alive, but there's a set of scales following her. She agreed to become Famine, according to the rock-star look-alike who identifies himself as Death.
Jackie Morse Kessler's depiction of anorexia and bulimia is brutal. Not just psychologically - toward the climax there is a ridiculously gory scene. (For those who don't like gore, it's not the only gory scene. Nightmare alert.) Lisa's point of view is well-explored. It feels authentic and unique to the character, not to the disorder. You won't confuse Lisa with Lia, for example.
Unlike WINTERGIRLS, HUNGER isn't a straightforward issue novel. It's also an urban fantasy about a teen girl becoming Famine and learning how to use her powers and do her job in tandem with the other three Horsepeople. Sometimes this part works. Kessler develops several settings, both lovely and depressing. Lisa converses with her fellow Horsepeople and every single one of them has an equally strange world view.
But I couldn't tell you much specifically about Lisa's job or her powers. They're clearly problematic, since Lisa is a decent person and doesn't want to starve others. Other than that, exactly what she does and how she does it is pretty unclear. (According to Lisa's horse, Lisa never does catch on that much.) I'm also not sure what happened to this plot between the climax and the end. Basically, Lisa makes a decision that kind of makes sense to me, but doesn't really in light of how she approached her problems. At the same time, I did like that Lisa's problems weren't completely solved at the end. There is not supernatural answer to her personal relationship with food.
As for the side characters, most of them come and go too quickly to get attached. Tammy's story has no resolution. James and Suzanne both come off as a little too perfect. Lisa's parents are nonentities. War and Pestilence get one good conversation each. It keeps the book moving, but I wanted a little more about the people who surround Lisa.
But there is one standout. Death. It appears that RAGE will be about a new Horseperson as well and I certainly hope that not all of the Rider's Quartet will feature new Riders. I'm not sure I could bear parting with the funny, charming, menacing Death. (That is, after all, how I like my fictional men.)
HUNGER is an odd balance between things that are well-developed - Lisa and Death - and things that are underdeveloped - the fantasy and the secondary characters. In an odd way, the novel was a good representation of its subject. At times I felt like I was getting a feast, but at the end I was left wanting. (Honestly, Lisa's powers did work for me until the end. Then I started thinking more about them, and I turned on my inner critic to write the review and that element seemed to fall apart.)
WINTERGIRLS by Laurie Halse Anderson
GOOD OMENS by Neil Gaiman and Terry Prachett
ON A PALE HORSE by Piers Anthony