Paperweight by Meg Haston

Paperweight is a contemporary realistic fiction that takes place mainly in a treatment center in New Mexico, even though Stevie is from Georgia.

Stevie reluctantly explores her eating disorder after her dad forces her to go to a treatment center. Meanwhile, she flashes back to her mother walking out on the family to go live in Paris, her brother’s death shortly after (both of which she blames herself for), and her magnetic new friend, Eden. The best part is the relationship between her and Shrink. Shrink forces her to be introspective when she is trying to drown out her feelings with food and purging.

Despite covering a sensitive topic, this book is considerately written and handles the subject with respect and authenticity. The writing style makes the issue accessible. The healing process and specific ED issues as well as other mental health issues are easy to explore in this novel and the writing is candid. The storyline is character-driven, issue-oriented (grief, ED, suicide), and non-linear (with many flashbacks). The pace is slow, but not too slow. Revelations gradually build momentum psychologically, even though ironically it feels like everything in Stevie’s world is slowing down as she transitions from anger and anxiety to becoming more hopeful and developing friendships.

The tone is angsty but doesn’t feel bogged down with negativity. Of course Stevie has a lot of anger, grief, self-hate, anxiety and not a lot of hope, but the reader doesn’t feel hopeless. The book is emotionally intense but ultimately inspirational. It is reflective and heartwrenching. You might need a full box of tissues. But the fact that Stevie is a strong, dynamic character who can be sympathized with makes all the difference. Stevie does not always act in her own interests, and her misguided decisions form a central theme in the story. They also make you root for her even more.

In a world where the odds are against people with eating disorders, this is a subject that needs to written about in a way that empowers sufferers to push through. Haston does a great job of realistically showing that despite how hard it is, people can recover. Elena Dunkle, author of another ED book I am reading, a memoir, Elena Vanishing, wrote about the disorder: “One study followed up with hospitalized anorexics ten year later, and only 23% of them had made a full recovery. The rest had relapsed, and 6% of them were dead.” (VOYA, August 2015)

I loved this book. It wasn’t too whiny and sad. You really felt like you were one of Stevie’s best friends and you were ready to defend her and yell at her when she made stupid decisions. You were ready to tell her nothing was her fault. You were happy for her when she finally made a friend. You felt her elation and anxiety when she was binging and purging. I am also reading  Elena Vanishing right now, which I will be reviewing soon, and in that book, the character isn’t as sympathetic. She’s hostile and childlike at the same time. She’s oblivious in a surreal way… the book describes her in a dissociative state, but it really doesn’t win her any brownie points. I’d rather be friends with Stevie.

I liked this explanation of why you don’t feel demolished after reading this book: “When the subjects of a story are anorexia and bulimia, self-blame for someone’s death, family dysfunction, and intended suicide, one might think the reader would be thoroughly depressed. However, the writing is such that there is something about Stevie that makes the reader root for her and hope for recovery in this absorbing novel.” – Jane Van Wiekockly, VOYA August 2015