I’m crying on a train people. Crying on a train!
I heard about this book on Marian Keyes’ vlog, and I knew I had to read it; it’s the story of an anorexic called Annabel who died and is now a sort-of kind-of guardian angel in training.
From the blurb:
Don’t call her a guardian angel. Annabel is dead – but she hasn’t completely gone away. Annabel immediately understands why her first assignment as a ghostly helper is to her old classmate: Julia is fat. And being fat makes you unhappy. Simple, right?
As Annabel shadows Julia’s life in the pressured final year of school, Julia gradually lets Annabel’s voice in, guiding her thoughts towards her body, food and control.
But nothing is as simple as it first seems. Spending time in Julia’s head seems to be having its own effect on Annabel . . . And she knows that once the voices take hold, it’s hard to ignore them.
Annabel wants to pass a message on to her family, but to do that, she must help someone who is suffering.
“The Boss” (this is what Annabel calls the mysterious being who she reports to) pairs Annabel with Julia, who has her own issues.
Julia is in her final year at school, has a loving, albeit busy, family and a full life. She is preparing to go to university, writes for the school newspaper and is really interested in history, feminism and hopes to be a journalist.
Annabel at first can’t see what problems Julia has, and decides that the thing she needs to help Julia deal with is her weight. Annabel is disgusted by Julia’s size, and is determined to make her better, make her thinner. After all, nothing tastes as good as being skinny feels. Right?
Annabel starts to put her thoughts in Julia’s head. She is weak, she is disgusting, she needs to eat less, exercise more. She doesn’t deserve to eat.
Julia starts to become obsessed with her weight, with counting calories and punishing herself if she slips. As Annabel starts to see Julia copying her behaviour, resulting in her life falling apart, she realises that maybe her loved ones were right, maybe she did “have a problem with food”. However once the seeds of self-hatred have been planted they are not easy to get rid of.
I loved this book. It gives an honest, blunt, downright horrifying portrayal of a person with an eating disorder. I’m sure people will be up in arms about this book, saying that it provides triggers, but really how can you write about this subject without describing the things an anorexic does? As someone who has had “a bit of a problem with food” in the past, I am really impressed by the way the author handled the subject matter.
It’s frightening the way Julia goes from being a confident, friendly, intelligent girl to being hostile, grumpy and completely obsessed with calories. Granted, she is dealing with some hidden issues right from the start, but it’s scary the way that Annabel’s thoughts take hold of her.
Annabel is one of those characters you hate at the beginning of the novel, but then grow to love. She has some really bitchy things to say, but underneath it all (deep underneath) she means well. I think it’s fair to say as well, Annabel doesn’t mean to mess with Julia’s head. She honestly believes that she is helping; that being thin will solve all of Julia’s problems.
There is a lot of adult content and swearing in this book, so it is not suitable for younger readers. This is an honest, funny, heartwarming, and incredibly sad story. I cannot recommend it highly enough.
Let me know in the comments if you’ve read this book or of you plan to.