By Jenny Torres Sanchez
Available now from Running Press (Perseus Books Group)
Charlie Grisner used to be fat. But slimming down didn't solve his problems. His mother still runs away and his dad spends most of his time out of the house. He's only got one real friend and he has to share a locker with Tanya Bate, the girl everyone hates. He's really into Charlotte VanderKleaton, the new girl, but so is one of the school bullies.
I loved Charlie's voice. He's awkward in a very authentic way. He doesn't have good problem-solving skills because his parents have taught him to run away from confrontation. While he came back from fat camp motivated to keep exercising (okay, that was to spy on the hot new neighbor), the pressures in his life lead to binging and purging. You don't often see books dealing with bulimia, much less guys who have it.
The secondary cast is pretty great too. Ahmed, the aforementioned real friend, emulates the Rat Pack in dress and speech. It can get a little annoying, but it's saved by Ahmed's loyalty to his buddy. Charlotte could be just another idealized dream girl, but debut author Jenny Torres Sanchez takes the time to flesh her out. Charlie sometimes notices the girl within the pretty exterior and sometimes misses the clues pointing her out. It felt very natural. I also liked the photography teacher, who notices that Charlie is having issues and takes the time to talk to him about his home life.
THE DOWNSIDE OF BEING CHARLIE could be a downer - mental illness, eating disorder, bullying - but Sanchez writes with humor and optimism. There's an upside to being Charlie, too. Charlie just needs to figure that out for himself. This terrific contemporary will appeal to a wide-range of YA readers. The male narrator will hopefully interest guy readers in some of the "girly" topics covered by THE DOWNSIDE OF BEING CHARLIE. I think Sanchez's is one of the best debuts I've read this year.