The Girls at 17 Swann Street

by Yara Zgheib
First sentence: “I call it the Van Gogh bedroom.”
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Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: There is frank discussion of eating disorders and some mild swearing. If the girls were younger, it’d be a Teen book, but because they’re in their 20s, it lands in Adult Fiction. It’d be appropriate for teenagers, though.

Anna has moved to St. Louis from Paris because her husband, Matthias, got a job here. She was a ballerina, but injured herself and has been off dancing for a while. And when she moved to the states, she couldn’t find a dancing job. One thing led to another, and it soon turned out that the only thing that Anna really could control was her eating. And control it she did, right down to 88 pounds.

Which is why she ended up at 17 Swann Street, a treatment house for those with eating disorders, primarily anorexia and bulimia.

The book follows Anna through six weeks of treatment, while we find out how she ended up at 17 Swann Street through flashbacks. We get to know some of the other patients, but only through Anna’s eyes, as well as Anna’s personal struggles with body image and food.

I liked this book, but I didn’t love it. Partially was visual: there was just too many italics. I know it’s a little thing, but I got tired of reading in italics and felt that they were unnecessary. But, beyond that, I felt that this was kind of clinical, and I was kept at an arm’s distance from really feeling like I was involved in it. Maybe it was me (I have my issues with food, but not a full-blown eating disorder), but I just didn’t connect with Anna or her story. I felt it was all a bit too… pat, for lack of another word.

It’s not a bad book — I finished it, after all — but it’s not the best I’ve read either.

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Lighter Than My Shadow

by Katie Green
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Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: There’s some disturbing images and language, as well as depictions of sexual assault. It’s in the graphic novel section of the bookstore.

This is a graphic memoir depicting Green’s journey and experience with eating disorders. She frames it as reflections from an adult perspective, looking back on her childhood, teens, and twenties as she struggles with anorexia and binge eating. It’s a very frank look — both at the way she perceived herself, but also the small things others around her, from her family to her friends to other students, said that contributed to her negative self-image.

Green tries many treatments, from the hospital to therapy to alternative therapy, but nothing seems to work. She thinks she’s “cured” at one point, but it’s really just a different manifestation for her need for control, which is the root problem.

Green’s not saying that her experience is typical of all anorexic’s experiences. But, that there is something of value in telling her story. And I think there is. I could see some of myself in her; while I have never been anorexic, I do have an inherent dislike of my body, and while I try not to pass that on to my girls, there are times when I’m afraid I have through little things I have unintentionally said.  I want them to have a healthy relationship with food, with their body, and reading books like this help me figure out how to help them have that.

I also really liked how the art reflects the story; Green does amazing things with darkness and shadow and fading images. It not only helped tell the story, it intensified it, giving a depth to this particular story that wouldn’t have come through in a prose book.

A very, very good book.