Skinny: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“I know what they think because she whispers their thoughts into my ear. I can hear them. Clearly. Constantly.

“‘If I ever look like that, just kill me.’

Her name is Skinny.”

Skinny by Donna CoonerSkinny has been the voice in Ever’s head for years. She showed up after Ever’s mother died and she started to gain weight. In the years since then, Skinny has only gotten worse–always quick to share the nasty thoughts everyone has for the pathetically fat girl.

Ever is fifteen years old and 302 pounds.

After one too many embarrassments at school, and far too many hopes being drowned out by Skinny’s poison, Ever makes a life-changing decision to undergo gastric bypass surgery–a risky procedure that could finally help Ever regain control of her weight provided she doesn’t fall victim to any of the dangerous complications.

As Ever starts to lose weight she allows herself to imagine a different life for herself: one where people don’t notice her because of her weight but because of her magnificent singing voice. One where she isn’t always on the periphery, alone.

But even as that life starts to seem possible, Skinny is still there telling Ever each and every thing that’s still wrong with her. If Ever really wants to take center stage in her own life, she’ll have to confront the toxic voice in her head first in Skinny (2012) by Donna Cooner.

Skinny is Crooner’s first novel. A gastric bypass patient herself, Skinny is also partially inspired by Crooner’s own experiences with the procedure.

Novels about characters with body image issues are hard. They are hard to read and they are hard to write. With such a fraught topic, everyone is going to have baggage of some sort that will affect their reading of the story. Having been overweight myself in high school,  I’m no exception. I was very wary going into Skinny, unsure of what to expect or how I would feel about what I read.

At 272 pages (hardcover), Skinny is a short book. For that reason, I’m willing to let a lot of things slide. The quick transition from Ever’s daily life to Ever getting the surgery. The abrupt shift from fat girl to not fat girl. Even the piecemeal information presented about life after the procedure.*

The story picks up after the surgery when Ever, with Rat’s invaluable assistance, starts the long process of recovery. I love a story where a character has to learn to re-engage with the world. And if anyone needs to re-engage, it’s Ever. Watching her subtle changes in self-perception and interaction with people at school is satisfying storytelling at its best.

That said, Skinny does have its share of frustrating moments.** While Ever’s transformation feels authentic (to the point that it reminded me of what it was like when I was heavier in high school), the sequence of events bothered me. We always know that Ever is going to have the surgery–it’s key to the plot and the story’s forward motion. It is important for Ever’s health. All of that is fine.

The problem comes when all of Ever’s friends and acquaintances start to interact with her and tell her how great she is as a person after she starts to lose weight. Everyone claims they liked Ever before but, with the notable exception of Rat, no one else makes an effort to stay close to Ever–in a sense not even her own family–when Ever is heavy.***

Skinny‘s strength is in Ever and her voice throughout the story. With a passion for musicals and a love of the stories they tell, Ever is a multi-faceted character. She is never just a fat girl and I appreciated that as a reader. Characterization of Ever’s best friend, Rat (who is fantastic in a mad genius/juvenile delinquent kind of way) and family are also handled well. (I was especially fond of the quirky small town Ever calls home and would have loved a bit more about the setting throughout the story.)

With a school musical sub-plot and just the barest hints of romance, Skinny is a strong, entertaining book ideal for readers looking for a novel with an emphasis on the “young” instead of the “adult” in “young adult.”

Possible Pairings: The Sweetheart of Prosper County by Jill S. Alexander, North of Beautiful by Justina Chen, Take a Bow by Elizabeth Eulberg, Fly on the Wall by E. Lockhart, Fix by Leslie Margolis, Fracture by Megan Miranda, My Big Nose and Other (Natural) Disasters by Sydney Salter, How To Say Goodbye in Robot by Natalie Standiford, Drama by Raina Telgemeier

*It wasn’t really key to the plot but I would have liked more consistent information about what Ever needed to do post-op. Ever is mostly in a daze reading all of the information to avoid overwhelming readers with extraneous text but I am still left wondering how the surgery is going to impact Ever’s life further down the line.

**Early on, Ever comments that there are no musical parts for overweight girls. And, I mean, that is partially true in that most plays do not make a point of mentioning a characters weight. But it also ignores Hairspray! And, worse, saying there are no parts for overweight girls feels tantamount to saying there are no parts for tall girls or Asian girls or dark-haired girls, etc. I know part of this was Ever’s own self-esteem issues but, come on. Musicals are tweaked all the time to accommodate actors who may not fit the “traditional” perception of a character’s appearance. Crooner also laid in a lot of details to suggest that Ever’s weight problem ties back to her own mother’s weight issues but these breadcrumbs never lead to a big revelation–instead they just sit there and Ever confronts Skinny without addressing what might be the underlying problem.

***Granted, Ever’s own self-esteem and image issues are obviously at work in pushing people away. But I would have really liked just one other character to tell Ever she was okay and lovable without the surgery. (It isn’t this novel’s fault, but I really don’t think there are enough books in the world with positive, engaged, characters who fall outside normative body shapes. Skinny begins to hint at that but the novel is practically finished by then. And thanks to the surgery, Ever is much more closer to those norms herself.)

*This book was acquired for review from the publisher at BEA 2012*