Wednesday, 24 February 2016

13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl

Author: Mona Awad
Genre: Contemporary Fiction, Women's Fiction, Canadian
Type: Paperback
Pages: 224
Source: Penguin Canada
Publisher: Penguin Canada
First Published: February 23, 2016
First Line: "We went against the universe at the McDonald's at the corner of Wolfedale and Mavis."

Book Description from GoodReads: Growing up in the suburban hell of Misery Saga (a.k.a. Mississauga), Lizzie has never liked the way she looks—even though her best friend Mel says she’s the pretty one. She starts dating guys online, but she’s afraid to send pictures, even when her skinny friend China does her makeup: she knows no one would want her if they could really see her. So she starts to lose. With punishing drive, she counts almonds consumed, miles logged, pounds dropped. She fights her way into coveted dresses. She grows up and gets thin, navigating double-edged validation from her mother, her friends, her husband, her reflection in the mirror. But no matter how much she loses, will she ever see herself as anything other than a fat girl?

In her brilliant, hilarious, and at times shocking debut, Mona Awad simultaneously skewers the body image-obsessed culture that tells women they have no value outside their physical appearance, and delivers a tender and moving depiction of a lovably difficult young woman whose life is hijacked by her struggle to conform. As caustically funny as it is heartbreaking, 13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl introduces a vital new voice in fiction.

My Review: From the reviews and accolades that I've read about this book I was expecting a light hearted 'Bridget Jones-type' read with funny bits, a quirky protagonist and a good overall message about weight and learning to love oneself despite not being a size zero.

Others described the book as 'hilarious' and 'sparkles with wit' but I had a very different experience with Lizzie's journey. I actually found Lizzie to be quite sad and depressing.  There were some rather funny descriptions thrown in throughout the book but overall this was a sad read for me because Beth/Lizzie/Elizabeth (or whatever moniker she's using) comes off as an unlikeable, sad and lost character that I couldn't relate to.  By the end of the book I still didn't feel like I knew Lizzie and that was disheartening.

It was hard to like Lizzie.  Even when she does lose weight she still lets the weight issue control her view of others as well as herself as she continues on her path of self destruction.  Whether she's fat or thin Lizzie doesn't like herself.  She will always be, in her own mind, the fat girl no matter what she calls herself or how much weight she loses which is an interesting look at self-esteem/weight loss but not an easy one to read.

I also wasn't fond of the short story/vignette format (which isn't alluded to in the book description). It took me a bit to figure out that the author was using this brief snap shot format instead of a more linear story line and that definitely affected my feelings for the book. I also found it hard to determine the time frame for some of the 13 stories that illustrate Lizzie's struggles. In one provocative sexual scene I initially thought Lizzie was a tween (thankfully she turned out to be older) but I didn't get that understanding until much later in that vignette.  Unfortunately this short story, choppier method of storytelling didn't help me feel grounded in the plot and gave the book a disjointed feel that I didn't enjoy.

Readers get glimpses into Lizzie's life but, like I just mentioned, there are some rather odd and uncomfortable sexual situations thrown into various stories which, I feel, took away from the overall message. I think the message that obsessing to fit into society's view of what a 'perfect body' isn't the road to happiness is a good one but these provocative sexual scenes happened with more frequency than I was comfortable with.

This book follows the life of a young woman with severe self-image issues.  What I'll take away from this book is the idea that a happy life and self-esteem aren’t a guarantee once you fit into a pair of size 4 jeans.  You have to be happy with who you are - weight be damned.  Unfortunately I didn't find reading about Lizzy's continued journey of self-loathing an enjoyable read. Other people may get more out of this book but for me this was a miss.

My Rating: 2/5 stars

Disclaimer: My sincere thanks to Penguin Canada for providing me with a complimentary paperback copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

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