Saturday, August 25, 2012

Book Review: The Stone Girl by Alyssa Sheinmel

Book: The Stone Girl
Author: Alyssa B. Sheinmel
Published: August 28, 2012
Source: Review copy from publisher via NetGalley

Sethie Weiss cares about only two things in life--being thin and holding onto Shaw. Although they hang out almost constantly, and have sex almost every time, he won't hold her hand in public, he won't use the word boyfriend, and he never, ever lets her know what he's thinking. What Sethie can control is her weight, and she rations out food and calories like a guilty secret, striving to shave off just one more pound.

Through Shaw, she meets Janey, and the two girls become fast friends, sharing everything from SAT tips to vomiting techniques. She also meets Ben, a sweet Columbia student who seems to actually like her. But not everything in her world is looking up. As Shaw slips through her fingers, Sethie gets more and more focused on cutting herself off from nourishment, and everyone else she cares about begins to take notice.

Anorexia is one of those topics that sort of makes YA readers (as in, people who have read the genre for a a long time, not necessarily readers who are young adults) go, "Oh, Christ, this again?" It's a serious topic that's been done to death. Literally, in some cases. The last time I liked an anorexia book, she was a Rider of the Apocalypse. However, in spite of the topic, I snatched this book up. This was because I remembered Sheinmel's first novel, The Beautiful Between, which had all the ingredients and milestones for a very run-of-the-mill YA novel but took the journey in an interesting and surprising way.

In this one, I kept thinking that something stereotypical was going to happen. Sethie would discover that Janey was sleeping with Shaw. (Not even.) She would fall in love with a new boyfriend whose love would make her see what she was doing to herself. (Didn't exactly happen, and good thing too.)  We'll find out that Mom, or society, or Shaw, was All To Blame. (Not hardly. In a lovely bit that showcases the complexity of this disease, Sethie looks at the various pamphlets and articles on anorexia in the school nurse's office and turns away from them, begging them to stop defining her.)

This was a very fast read, and very, very focused on Sethie's inner life. Sometimes it's hard to get a handle on the characters outside of Sethie, but this didn't bother me too much. What I liked was the realistic, complex look at Sethie's disease, the lack of easy answers, and the acknowledgement that the only person who could start to pull Sethie back to health was herself.

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