12 June 2011

a good YA book with a stupid "how to get help" bit at the end

I just read Beautiful Monster, by Kate McCaffrey, published by Fremantle Press (which is partly why I bought it - supporting Aus small press) in 2010.

this is a venting post, not a review, so it's probably going to have massive spoilers and be emotive rather than thought through.

the story itself is okay - not particularly original, more a mixture of familiar themes and plot elements that many writers have worked with (not that there's anything wrong with that): how the death of a child affects a family - parents and sibling/s; how destructive eating disorders can be; how someone with an eating disorder can delude themselves so that they honestly believe they're striving for perfection while they're really doing themselves serious damage; the unreliable narrator...

the voice is great - Tess's thoughts and feelings are conveyed so well, I couldn't remember if it was first person or third (it's limited third, firmly fixed inside Tess's perspective). Not sure that I really get a sense of Tess changing with age - from 13 to 15 to 17 - but that could just be because everything is distorted by the grief, self-blame and self-loathing that she gets lost in.

the structure is okay - a steady flow of narrative interrupted by a couple of big jumps, each over a two-year gap, with some references in the third section to the major events that took place within the second gap.

from my perspective as someone who's had an eating disorder, the writer really does a good job of getting into that mind frame - fear, trying to stay in control, feeling physically ill at the sight of food, thinking about food all the time, an extremely distorted body image (very nicely written scene in which Tess, urged by a friend, sees for a moment how she really looks in the mirror - so thin she's skeletal - then her defenses spring up and enable her to see what she thinks is there - pudgy flabby fat), massive guilt and self-loathing.

the imaginary friend who personifies all of Tess's distorted thinking is well written, but I'm not so sure about that same persona hooking up with a new victim in the epilogue - it conveys the point that other people are putting themselves through hell with self-hatred and distorted thinking too, but it makes it seem almost as if the persona is an evil spirit separate from Tess - which surely wasn't the point?

anyway, apart from relating to Tess's nausea, fear and guilt, the thing that really made it hard for me to sleep after reading Beautiful Monster was the unhelpful "help" page at the back of the book.
I'm glad it's there - like any tv program, non-fiction book or novel that deals with mental illness, grief or self-harming, it's a good idea to provide viewers/readers with some contacts in case they need to talk to someone about how they feel after watching/reading it.
but this one, after asking "Need help?", says
"If you or someone you know needs help there are lots of people to go to. You can speak to parents, friends, siblings, teachers and counsellors."

hello?! this spiel presumably was written by someone at the publishing company, not by the author, and I'm sure their intentions are good - wonderful - but if you've read the book, you might've noticed that someone who is self-harming probably feels ashamed & isolated, and is trying to cover it up. people who are hospitalised cos they've nearly killed themselves probably *don't* feel like they can talk to anyone - even if there are caring, non-judgemental people who are actively trying to help them - and saying "there are lots of people to go to" doesn't change that.

at least they do put the urls for reachout, beyondblue, kidshelp, and other good websites, and the phone number for Kids' Helpline. I just wish they'd either left out the line about "lots of people" or put the websites first. Kids Helpline now has a live chat service on its website, because a lot of kids feel safer with the anonymity of being online, rather than ringing and having someone hear their voice, and have more chance of finding privacy on a computer than on their parents' landline or a mobile for which their parents may be paying the bill.

so anyways, I guess maybe I'm feeling a bit unable to communicate myself, to have been so stirred up by the book and the help info. and I do have caring, intelligent, non-judgemental friends and a fab sister that I can talk to. oh wells.

I might have another go at getting to sleep now (after I check FB to see if anything exciting is happening), and save my review (which might well be a review) of The Adoration of Jenna Fox for tomorrow, or sometime.

PS the cover illustration for Beautiful Monster is fab - it looks to me like the skeleton of a baby bird - baby birds are usually so ugly, but tug at our hearts despite that - they're so fragile, and will become beautiful being that can fly, if they don't fall out of their nests or get starved out by a cuckoo.

PPS YA fiction that deals with 'dark' stuff can be totally fabulous and can save people's lives. we do not need censorship of 'heavy' issues - kids (and other people who read YA) choose to read light or dark stories for various reasons, and not having gritty tales available to read won't make anyone's life all bright and sparkly if it isn't already.


Heather Jean said...

It sounds a bit like you've actually been quite affected by this book. It's been years since I've been awake most of the night after a film or book, but I know what it's like. I think it's such a difficult subject to deal with, and I can see it's a well meaning little statement they've put on there, and I guess because it's aimed at young people, they may be required to encourage them to talk to adults in their life? I wouldn't be surprised if it was some advice from the publisher's lawyers, something like that.

I think society really has gone downhill with this whole subject, role models are getting more and more underweight, and women more and more obsessed. I know women who are registered with weight watchers online when they are at the low edge of normal, but believe they are overweight, and the online thing lets them buy into it even more. It fills me with despair to be honest.

greenspace said...

good point, Heather - the publishers might well have been advised to word it that way.

it's nuts, isn't it? the 'thin' epidemic, the extent to which people (particularly women) are having plastic surgery... thank heavens there's also a Healthy At Every Size movement among nutritionists and psychotherapists.

Heather Jean said...

Oh it's frightening, truly. I can't bear to watch a lot of Hollywood telly, or film, these days, and I fear it will creep in everywhere. There needs to be a backlash. I even think the overwhite teeth have gone too far.

The trouble is that it's so pervasive that you can feel like a lone voice in everyday life. I did that blog about it, but I think people who know me and read it just thought I was being a bit odd, rather than talking sense.