That Which Goes Up…

“The anorectic operates under the astounding illusion that she can escape the flesh, and, by association, the realm of emotions.”

—-Marya Hornbacher

Paperweight has been on my TBR list for months. Granted, plenty of books have been on that list for longer than months, but I was drawn to this one so strongly that it made it to the top of the list within seconds; and mind you, I’m a very do-it-in-chronological-order type of gal. As a sort of disclaimer, Paperweight hits extremely close to home with me, maybe even a little too close. For that reason, I’d advise extreme caution over choosing to read it, as many of its events can be detrimentally triggering. My feelings about it aren’t easily able to be typed into coherent thoughts, but here is my attempt…

Stevie is a 17-year-old girl from Georgia suffering from a life threatening eating disorder, brought on after the departure of her mother and the death of her older brother, Joshua. She sees her mother’s choice to leave as a reflection on her character, and goes as far as blaming herself for the death of her brother. After toying with a toxic relationship and developing a severe eating disorder, Stevie reaches a monumental conclusion: she will end her life on the one year anniversary of her brother’s passing, the death she caused; however, her plans are interrupted when her father chooses to send her to an inpatient center in the desert of New Mexico to overcome her eating disorder. While in treatment Stevie must deal with her weight, both physically and figuratively, and decide whether or not to go through with the only decision she deems fit to honor the brother she loves.

Not to be ironic, but Paperweight was… heavy. Bone crushingly heavy. From the very first page, Meg Haston creates overwhelming images of smell, sound, taste, and touch. Too often authors make the mistake of introducing dozens of characters at once, and anchoring in on the narrator’s emotions becomes difficult because we’re left trying to keep everyone’s thoughts straight. The beginning of this book was so heavily about Stevie and her experiences that readers have no choice but to focus on her grief, and her problems. It isn’t until the story progressed and Stevie’s suffering began to lessen that the struggles of others were brought to light—because everyone does have struggles, and to have a book revolve solely around any one character would be foolish. I can personally empathize with Stevie, but even those who can’t have no choice but to fathom the unfathomable things she is going through. The attention to detail and honesty in Paperweight is brilliant.

I don’t typically read books like most others. To me, they’re constructions of techniques that are pieced together to form a polished whole. To others, books are a story. I can’t tell you the last time I’ve read a book simply for the sake of reading; but from the very beginning it was subconsciously impossible for me to think of this as being any more than it actually is, a brutally honest story about a girl who resembles too many girls in the world today. It wasn’t until about halfway through that I realized I made no annotations. I hadn’t picked up my highlighters. The book was still a construction of techniques, but Haston was able to effortlessly tell it in a way that also made it a story, and that is the greatest genius of all.

I won’t waste time going into the specifics, because I think most bloggers on the internet are familiar with the trend of romanticizing eating disorders. While Stevie romanticizes them, Haston does not. The satirical point she is trying to make with Stevie’s blunt and sarcastic narration of her extremely serious illness is that there is absolutely nothing beautiful about eating disorders. They are messy, and traumatizing, and taxing, and affect every single aspect of a sufferer’s life until the issue is no longer just the food. Stevie’s issues with food affected her self-image, relationships, grief, and decisions about everyday life so much that it’s no wonder she set out to kill herself. In the mind of an ED sufferer, everything is in their control–that is, until they open their eyes and realize that things are crashing down around them. It’s this crashing down that makes Stevie’s story so heart-breakingly honest. I haven’t come across many contemporary YA novels that touch on the subject of eating disorders, and I don’t know why. It’s so much more common than people think, and if just one teenager can read a story like this and see an admirable main character choose life despite her heavy burdens, then maybe that’ll be enough to resonate with them to do the same.

If you, or anyone you know is suffering with an eating disorder, take the first step and contact the NEDA here to see how you can find help. I wouldn’t go as far as recommending this book to someone suffering, but it’s a brilliant and beautiful tool for all others to become tolerant and educated on a very real problem that gets too little attention. Meg Haston, well done.

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