The REAL in Reality

Screen Shot 2013-05-29 at 6.11.09 PMOne of my favorite quotes of all time comes from a Markus Zusak book titled “I Am The Messenger.” It says:

“Sometimes people are beautiful. Not in looks. Not in what they say. Just in what they are.”

Confession time? I hate fashion magazines.

While I love shoes, and can appreciate the artistic aspect of some of the photos found inside, I think they endorse a horrible message. That you can’t be beautiful unless you are rail then and can distort your body in unnatural ways. See I was taught at a very young age (by my grandfather) that beauty is only skin deep. That lipstick can’t hold a conversation, and perfect hair can’t change the world. He told me (regularly) that he thought I was beautiful, so rest assured this wasn’t a backhanded lesson. But he also said the thing he loved best was my way with words. How I could manipulate them into emotions. That who I was, would ALWAYS trump what I wore. That remembering that would allow me to grow, allow me to be.

For years I lived by this mantra. Content to believe that my grandpa was wise.

Then in high-school all of that changed. Despite my unwavering emo-ness (which I had acquired by spending an insane amount of time in the library) I wanted to be noticed for what was on the outside (like other girls) not for my ability to write pages and pages of crap in my journal. I decided my grandpa was wrong. Beauty DID matter.

Don’t worry, I’ll spare you from all of the sordid details about my recovery from insanity, but I’ll tell you what helped.

That quote.

For years I rebelled against the lessons I had been taught as a child. Insisted that I knew what was best. And then in 2003 I read a book that opened a door and let light back in. It confirmed what my grandfather had said to me so many years ago. That “sometimes people are beautiful simply because of WHO they are.”

In Heather Topham Wood’s novel “The Disappearing Girl” the lead character Kayla struggles to learn and understand, that very same message.

Kayla Marlowe is slowly vanishing…

Last year, Kayla’s world imploded. Her beloved father died, leaving her alone with a narcissistic mother who is quick to criticize her daughter’s appearance. During her winter break from college, Kayla’s dangerous obsession with losing weight begins.

Kayla feels like her world changes for the better overnight. Being skinny seems to be the key to the happiness she has desperately been seeking. Her mother and friends shower her with compliments, telling her how fantastic she looks. Kayla is starving, but no one knows it.

Cameron Bennett explodes into Kayla’s life. He’s sexy and kind—he has every quality she has been looking for in a guy. As Cameron grows closer to Kayla and learns of how far she’s willing to go to stay thin, he becomes desperate to save her.

Kayla’s struggles with anorexia and bulimia reach a breaking point and she is forced to confront her body image issues in order to survive. She wonders if Cameron could be the one to help heal her from the pain of her past.

There is this saying (I’m not sure where it comes from) that says: “The best books are the books that make you uncomfortable.” I agree with this statement. While dissecting the complicated world of eating disorders isn’t fun, it IS a FACT of life. Dragons are not real. Harry Potter won’t be gracing your doorstep anytime in the near future, and (for argument’s sake) let’s just say there is less than a 1% chance a zombie will eat your face off next week.

But anorexia? Bulimia? Body dysmorphic disorder? These are diseases that affect thousands of people everyday. Diseases that cause families to crumble. Encourage lying, and damage lives. They are serious, and they deserve to be treated as so.

Kayla (the lead in “The Disappearing Girl”) is weighed down by all three of the diseases I mentioned above. They embody her, and control her:

“I was no longer comfortable in my own skin. When I undressed, I would stare at the flab on my body and feel compelled to shut my eyes to block out the source of my revulsion.”

But let’s start at the beginning shall we?

Reeling from the sudden death of her father, and subsequently pummeling of harsh comments (concerning her weight) by her mother, Kayla is slowing drowning in an emotional whirlpool. But one night of reckless binge eating (and then purging) shocks her into a ghastly realization. She can cure everything that ails her. Lose weight, be happy. But when (what started out as) a single thought morphs into starving herself and shutting out everyone she loves, coping with the repercussions turns out to be more than she can handle.

Kayla in one word is: troubled.

The world she lives in: scary.

And Wood did a fantastic job of articulating both. Walking a very fine line between grit and shock Wood introduces her audience to the (uncensored) harsh realities of extreme dieting. And as much as I would like to “nicely” relay the events of this book to you, I’ve discovered there is no point. So I’ll let Wood do some of the talking.

“My thoughts were irrational. I couldn’t think of anything else except getting the food out of me. The more seconds that passed, the more time the food would have to digest and be stuck inside me forever.”

“Pro-Ana had made things much easier for me. The various Pro-Ana sites gave me all the tips I needed to conceal my diet from everyone else. I had stocked up on packages of bagels and muffins. They became my showpieces; I carried them around with me to put on the pretense I was actually eating them. Instead, I usually broke off pieces and shoved them into my pockets or purse.”

“One of the things that works is I count to a hundred whenever I want something to eat. By the time I get to a hundred, I’ve had enough time to think of all the reasons I shouldn’t eat. Another think is I’ll pinch each spot on my body where I find any fat, really hard.”

“You know what else helps me when I want to eat? Watch people eat! It’s kind of gross, especially when you see fat people doing it. Or do something else you think is revolting. Like clean the bathroom, or change kitty litter.”

As for the “New Adult” aspects of the book. They were there (aka there is a hot boy, and they  have a complicated relationship…yada yada) but unlike most NA these days their relationship wasn’t the “focus” (if you will) of the novel. Kayla’s struggles were. As a matter of fact, there is a rather large chunk of the novel where Cameron (the good guy that he is) disappears completely in an effort to maintain the forward movement of Kayla’s story. I think this was smart on the authors part. Also…it was refreshing. Their “spacing” allowed their relationship to develop naturally, making the impact in the end much more convincing.

This book is emotional and harsh. It is only 249 pages long, but it is a very tumultuous 249 pages. Touching on some of the most difficult of aspects of mental illness, and how to triumph over it.

Use caution when deciding whether or not to purchase this book. It’s good, but it isn’t fluffy.

Happy Reading my fellow Kindle-ites and remember: There is always someone there to help: National Eating Disorders Association 1-800-931-2237 

Rating Report
Overall: 3.8

About Misty

Your friendly neighborhood narcissist. I'm sarcastic, cynical and a bit cranky. I own a soap box so big that sometimes I have difficulty stepping down off of it, and I'm about 94% certain I have multiple personalities. I don't sleep enough, and I read more than any person should ever consider normal. I have anger management issues, especially when I'm stuck in traffic and I have an unhealthy obsession with my Kindle. I am a vampire lovin', zombie obsessed, book-in-hand, iPod freak. You either love me or hate me. You be the judge.

One thought on “The REAL in Reality

  1. sounds like an excruciatingly difficult read. i can’t imagine the emotional toll of writing about stuff like this. and i’m very glad to know that the romance isn’t the focus of the novel, because with such serious issues in play, it certainly shouldn’t be.

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