Author: Natasha Friend
Isabelle Lee's favorite word is "fine." She tells everyone she's fine when they ask how she's doing after her father's death a year and a half before. She tells her little sister, April, that she's fine when she catches her throwing up in the bathroom. She tells the therapy group that she's fine and she doesn't need to be there.
That's before Ashley Barnum joins the group. Perfect Ashley Barnum, with the oodles of popularity and the stacks of friends and the pre-teen model looks and the rich family. To Isabelle's amazement, Ashley Barnum does the same thing she does--stuffs herself to fill the emptiness inside, then pukes it all up.
As Isabelle and Ashley create their own little binge-and-purge club, Isabelle slowly becomes aware that no matter how many times she says it, everything isn't fine. The only question now is how she's going to handle it.
One of the things I liked best about this novel was how it treated the roots of Isabelle's eating disorder. While Ashley's predicament--overbearing expectations and a hollow mockery of a family life--is more in line with what we expect from eating-disorder novels, Isabelle's stems not from her father's death but how the family that's left behind is handling it, or rather, not handling it. Isabelle's mother is deeply depressed and Isabelle herself denies the pain, and both of them dodge April's attempts to talk about their father. While body image is certainly a huge problem, more often it's a stand-in for deeper emotional holes.
Oddly enough, I felt as if this were a lighter treatment of bulimia. Not lighter as in not taking it seriously as a problem or not showing the really disgusting bits. Friend doesn't back off on those. But Isabelle has just started her slide into bulimia, and it hasn't gotten to the extent that it does in many other novels. Although she's still purging sometimes by the end of the novel, you feel strongly that she's going to be okay.
Eating disorders are often considered the territory of teen problem novels, but Perfect shows how they can (and often do) start years beforehand.