By Donna Cooner
Available now from Point (Scholastic)
I judged SKINNY by it's cover for a long time. The publicist who gave it to me was very enthusiastic, but I wasn't sold enough on the cover to even crack it open. I assumed it was similar to Laurie Halse Anderson's WINTERGIRLS, and would be about some girl dealing with anorexia or bulimia. There's nothing wrong with stories involving anorexia or bulimia, but I've read several - and reviewed several. It's an important issue but not one that resonates much with me. But that's not what SKINNY is about. Ever Davies is fifteen and weighs more than three-hundred pounds. She is not that slender girl on the cover of her story.
Ever's a tough protagonist to like. She is a mean girl. She's very aware of her weight and constantly on the offensive so that she can hurt others before they hurt her. She believes that she can hear what everyone thinks of her. She calls that voice in her head that calls her ugly and unlovable and other terrible things "Skinny." But while it may be hard to like Ever due to her abrasiveness, she's an easy character to understand and you do feel for her. Plus, her inability to see her the problems of those around her can partially be chalked up to the fact that she's fifteen.
SKINNY mostly focuses on why Ever chooses to have gastric bypass surgery and what her life is like in that first year after the surgery. Donna Cooner has had gastric bypass surgery herself and does not dismiss it as an easy fix. Ever often struggles with her new diet and exercise requirements and wonders if she made the right decision. Losing weight doesn't instantly fix her self esteem either, nor does getting a makeover from a popular girl. Ever has to learn to accept and love herself, which isn't easy for anyone.
I also liked that SKINNY comments on the Cinderella story. (The book is very obvious about this fact, from having Ever tell Cinderella to children to Ever trying out for a part in the school's production of Rodgers and Hammerstein's Cinderella.) The girl who has nothing becomes the girl who has everything, including a prince to dance with her at the ball. But stepsisters are people too, and few people find their prince in high school, and maybe being comfortable performing in public is more important to you than having a bunch of friends.
Cooner's debut novel is a striking one. It's slight but heartfelt. Fat girls and women aren't represented much in media, and when they are they're rarely the protagonist of the story. Some may have issues with the emphasis SKINNY puts on weight loss, but I think it was well done. Ever over ate due to emotional issues and was decidedly not healthy at her size. And, as I previously mentioned, the weight loss is not a quick fix. She needs more than just a surgery to love her body, but the surgery does help her. I think it's an interesting story that will hopefully reach its audience despite the obviously not fat girl on the cover.