September 29, 2011

Reasons to Be Happy: Review (Blog Tour)

Patient: Reasons to Be Happy by Katrina Kittle

Hannah's parents are glamorous Hollywood royalty, and sometimes she feels like the ugly duckling in a family of swans. After her mother's tragic death, Hannah's grief is compounded by her desperate need to live up to her mother's image. She tries to control her weight through Bulimia, and her devastated father is too distracted to notice. The secret of her eating disorder weighs heavily on Hannah, but the new eighth grade Beverly Hills clique she's befriended only reinforces her desire to be beautiful. The only one who seems to notice, or care, that something is wrong is Jasper, the quirky misfit. (from Goodreads)


Axis 1. Characters

It took me a little while to get used to Hannah's voice. I felt like sometimes it was too mature, a wiser Hannah looking back, but at other times it seemed a bit too young. However, I could definitely sympathize with her, as I remember what it was like to be that age and have to deal with annoying "cool" girls like the B-Squad. It captures the feeling of being in middle school, and all the emotions that come with it, quite well.

Hannah's list of "reasons to be happy" gives us a glimpse into the Hannah that used to be, a girl who is markedly different from the Hannah mid-book. The love for life and trying new things that we see in the old Hannah gives us some idea of the girl she once was. Her pastime of building miniature cities is different, creative and gives her a more distinct character. I would have wanted to be friends with her before she gets in with the B-Squad, becomes bulimic and turns into someone else.

Jasper was sweet but struck me as very unrealistic for a young teenage guy. He was far too mature and understanding to be believable, instead coming off as more of a young girl's fantasy crush. A message about the importance of inner beauty from an adult is one thing, but it stretched my credulity too far to have it come from a guy Hannah's age.

Hannah's dad is a perfect example of how imperfect a parent can be. At one point he's a real jerk who can't see — or chooses to ignore — his daughter's situation and how much she needs help. Once he admits his failings and tries to remedy them, though, he becomes more open with his daughter and willing to listen to her. 

Axis 2. Premise/plot

I enjoyed how her list of "reasons to be happy" was referred to throughout the novel; it gives the story some structure and an angle that makes it a bit more memorable amongst a sea of "eating disorder books." The trip to Africa also adds something different and fresh, giving Hannah perspective and showing her how much she has to be grateful for.

Axis 3. Writing Style

The author's intentions seemed obvious to me at times, and the sentences fairly simple, but it is a "tween" read and I don't read many of those so I'm not that familiar with that level. I also found some of the dialogue (especially exchanges with Jasper) to be inauthentic for their ages.

Axis 4. Psychological Accuracy

The Bulimia Binging-Purging Cycle:

The scenes depicting Hannah's binging and purging were realistic to the point of being somewhat nauseating for me. Her desperate need to devour food — she'd gotten to the point of stealing food from the store — and then vomit it all up made me feel sick. Kittle's ability to evoke Hannah's emotions in me was excellent; I felt guilty and nervous like she did because it seemed like I was binging and purging right along with her. I was fascinated by the relief she felt upon purging, which demonstrated that for Hannah it was not all about her body image. She mentions a few times that she wants to be thin (especially in a misguided effort to please her mother) but I never bought it the same way that I bought her urgent need to feel the physical and emotional relief that the bulimia gave her. It's like an addiction for her, and provides a compelling reason for why Hannah continues to hurt herself this way. Often one might think, "Well, why doesn't she just stop?" but Reasons to Be Happy demonstrates that it isn't that easy.

I think one of the deepest reasons for Hannah's bulimia is that she wishes to maintain control over some aspect of her life. Her mother's got cancer, Hannah's at a new school with a nasty group of girls and she's trying to fit in and not make waves — but the one thing she does have complete control over is what she puts into, and takes out of, her body. And I thought Hannah's name for her bulimia — her "SR," or secret remedy — was a great way to demonstrate how individuals might euphemize their disorder, to make it seem okay to them even though on some level they know it's dangerous. At first, having a secret that's all hers makes Hannah feel special, but as she realizes how deeply she's stuck it begins to scare her. She no longer has control over the mechanism she's been using to exert control.

The physical symptoms Hannah demonstrates are also accurate — the "chipmunk cheeks," marks on her knuckles from induced vomiting, missed menstruation (which, by the way, I did not realize happened with bulimia as well as anorexia before I read this book), and bruising under her eyes from broken blood vessels. I wasn't sure throughout, though, what her weight situation actually was. Is she a healthy weight for her age/height? Is she thin? Overweight?

Validity Score: How psychologically accurate was Reasons to Be Happy?
Axis 5. Miscellaneous

I did think her aunt Izzy should have done more to get Hannah help. Yes, she takes her to a mental health professional, but Hannah doesn't see the therapist for very long before she's shipped off to Africa. While Africa does help Hannah to find herself again, and acts as a distraction, most teens won't be able to just run off to Africa if they have bulimia. Some more emphasis on the importance of getting professional help might have been more constructive.

Patient shares symptoms with: Purge by Sarah Darer Littman, Hunger by Jackie Morse Kessler

Patient's statement:

I’d eaten everything I’d stolen from our kitchen freezer earlier, all those Tupperware containers of peanut chicken, coconut soup, and pasta salads that the cleaning lady had packed up and put away after the funeral. All the boxes of fancy soups, rolls of crackers, and jars of pesto I’d snuck from our pathetic cupboards. The mustard, the maple syrup, the chocolate sauce. I knew I should ration, but I knew I wouldn’t. Once a binge began, I would eat every last scrap. I opened the drawer and devoured a loaf of bread, a pack of pudding cups, a box of oatmeal cream pies.

Finally, it happened.

Like a motor coming on, like a switch. The trance. I closed my eyes. I didn’t need to see. I didn’t taste. I didn’t feel texture.

I didn’t feel anything.

Diagnosis: 3.5 shooting stars. 

For more information about bulimia, see here.

Disclaimer: I received this book for review from the publisher. 

My interview with Katrina Kittle will be up tomorrow, so check back for that!

1 comment:

  1. Oh wow. This is definitely one that I think I might need to read. It sounds intense. Bummer that her voice isn't always authentic, but I like that an eating disorder is so accurately portrayed in a younger YA novel. I feel like it's an age that has a lot of risk for an eating disorder without a lot of discussion yet.


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