Two YA books really spoke to me from the shelves recently. The first, a story of a shy, overweight girl who uses her science fair project as an opportunity to overhaul her lifestyle; the other a story of unrequited love between a fifteen and a 22-year old. I empathized with both protagonists, having experienced my own weight loss journey and my own heartbreak from an older boy. I didn’t read them because I am still brooding over these issues. Instead, I read them because I wanted to remember. Maybe my recent marriage has me nostalgic for my younger years. Maybe I need to remember how far I have come, in terms of fitness accomplishments and healthy living. Regardless…I read books. Here are my thoughts on both.
Fat Cat by Robin Brande is about Cat’s journey from modern-day junk food gobbling, Diet Coke draining, not-a-swimmer-anymore science nerd to a vegetarian chef and nearly-skinny girl who finds her way back into cooking, swimming, and the arms of a few very cute classmates. Cat is her own worst enemy, as she freely admits after a few scientific experiment-induced revelations. She overheard her best friend Matt say mean things about her four years ago, and she spent the next few years stuffing her sorrows down with food.
Cat’s best friend Amanda is the ultimate YA novel side-kick. She is witty, beautiful, artistic, and has a sweet, handsome boyfriend. Though she is awfully cliche, I totally adore her. Her honesty is delivered with a well-meaning smile and the kind of support a girl can only get from a best girl friend. This is a “girl power” book all the way.
One of the themes the author forgot to wrap up was Cat’s self-deprecating inner monologue. While we never know how many pounds or dress sizes she loses (a fact I LOVE, because that way readers cannot compare themselves to “fat” Cat) Cat refuses to believe that she is thin. She slowly accepts the attention and compliments from Greg, Nick, and Matt, but refuses to say them to herself. That is a huge flaw. I spent years hating my body, and I know that it doesn’t matter what others say…it is all about self perception. I wish Brande would have included something about body dysmorphic disorder – a mental illness where, despite what you actually look like, you only see a defect. This would make a good “Girls Only” book discussion book, for that reason alone.
Falling in love is one of the most incredible, painful experiences of a teen girl’s life. Especially if it is unrequited. In Laura Buzao’s Love and Other Perishable Items fifteen-year old Amelia falls for her 22-year old coworker Chris. He is clever, poetic, laugh-out-loud funny, and as unattainable as Justin Bieber. His eyes are focused on other girls, no…other women. Nevertheless, a friendship flourishes. Told in alternating voices, Love and Other Perishable Items exposes to readers what it is like to be a young girl in love with a man she will never be allowed to love. Their interactions are funny yet distanced, her feelings painful yet hopeful.
But the book is so much more than romance. Amelia lives in a cigarette smoke-filled home with an overworked mother, and Chris hates that he isn’t young, rich and successful, and must thereby still give in to his parent’s requests.
I am one and twenty years old. I can vote, enlist, drink legally in the US, and ‘come into’ my inheritance in a Jane Austen novel. But I can’t come home from work and flop onto my bed in peace if I choose,
Chris still lives at his parent’s home, which many teen readers are likely terrified of having to do themselves post-graduation. Lines like the one above are humorous takes on his otherwise sucky situation.
The end is a pleasant surprise. Sometimes I don’t want the characters to fall in love. It’s too expected. Buzo wrote the mature young girl and the immature older boy a solid friendship, which is sometimes all a girl in love can ask for.