I’ve had this book on my to-read list for a while now, and I finally picked it up this week. I’m so glad I did! It touched me on a few different levels, and I couldn’t wait to write about it for the blog.
Skinny, by Donna Cooner, is about Ever Davies, a 300-pound 15-year-old who hates being trapped inside her body. She’s haunted by a vicious inner voice that she’s named Skinny. Skinny has something nasty to say about just about every moment in Ever’s daily life. She calls her every variation on “fat” you can think of. Tells her she’ll never be popular or happy or loved. If there’s a moment of good in Ever’s day, Skinny is quick to skewer it. She says all of the negative things Ever is sure her classmates and family are thinking about her, every awful thing Ever believes about herself.
After a humiliating incident with a broken chair at a school assembly, Ever has had enough of being overweight. She decides to have gastric bypass surgery near the end of the school year, so she’ll have the whole summer to lose weight. With her best friend Rat (real name: Ted, though no one calls him that) by her side, she makes it through the painful and traumatic recovery. She relearns how to eat. She forces herself to exercise. And the pounds drop off.
The only problem? Skinny doesn’t go away.
As you can probably guess, Skinny is about how changing your appearance is fine—especially if you’re benefiting your health, like Ever is—but it doesn’t solve all of your problems. Ever has to learn to change on the inside, as well. Even 100 pounds lighter, Ever hears Skinny tell her how ugly she is. How she’ll never look good enough. She’s a talented singer, but has to conquer her terror of being in front of people (will they make fun of her?) in order to audition for the school production of Cinderella. She’s had a crush on Jackson, a childhood-friend-turned-jock, for years, but is sure he’ll never give her the time of day. (Never mind that her actual Prince Charming might be someone who’s been there for her all along…) It’s a straightforward message, but Cooner delivers it effectively by showing Ever’s continued insecurities even as, on the surface, she has less and less to be insecure about.
As I said up top, I related to this book on multiple levels. For starters, a few people close to me have had gastric bypass surgery, and what Ever goes through dovetails with things that I’ve heard about the process, from the physical side effects to the emotional. It was interesting to see the experience through a vulnerable teen girl’s eyes.
For myself, meanwhile, I related to that voice in Ever’s head that tells her she’s not good enough. As a teen, I trained pretty seriously at a ballet studio in my hometown, and even before puberty hit, it was pretty clear I wasn’t going to be a ballerina. No matter how much I loved dance, and how much I worked to improve, I just didn’t have the right shape. After several years of hearing that I needed to shed a few pounds, and losing roles due to costumes not fitting, and always seeing myself as the largest, curviest girl in a studio full of waifs, I had a Skinny of my own. She wasn’t as vocal or as nasty as Ever’s, but she was there, telling me that if I could just be thinner, everything would be a lot better. She didn’t stay in the dance studio, either. I didn’t date for a long time because I wasn’t confident that the guys I liked would find me attractive, and a lot of that stemmed from how I felt about my body.
One of the things I loved about Skinny was Cooner’s point (and Ever’s realization, late in the book) that so many people have that voice in their head that tells them they’re not good enough. For Ever, it’s about her weight. For her step-sister Briella, it’s about not being smart. One of the popular girls in the book turns out to have stage fright. I love the empathy that comes from Ever’s realization that she isn’t the only one out there who’s struggling. I love the transformation, inside even more than out, that comes from facing and conquering Skinny. I love that readers of the book can see themselves in it, and can think about overcoming their own negative inner voices.
Plus, the book has a lot of really clever parallels to Cinderella, from Ever’s step-sisters to an actual Fall Ball at school. 🙂
Skinny is a fast read, and if you like teen transformation stories, I can’t recommend it enough!