Monday, 6 February 2017

Nothing Tastes As Good: the mental health take on eating disorders

Have I told you how much I love Young Adult fiction? Even better, is Irish YA, and even better again, Irish YA which tackles mental health.

How could I resist Claire Hennessy's Nothing Tastes as Good?

Nothing Tastes as Good was released last year and has already been shortlisted and nominated for a number of literary awards.

Annabel, is sent as a spirit guide to former classmate Julia. The only problem? Julia is fat, and Annabel detests fat. Acting as her inner voice, Annabel urges Julia to assert control over what she eats; a voice that caused Annabel's own demise.

Set in Ireland, the book details Julia's journey through her final year of school and Annabel's journey to get one final moment with her family. *This review contains some spoilers*

The characters were likeable. Who doesn't want a loyal and loving friend like Maria? Or a charming but genuinely nice guy like Gavin? And watching Julia grow throughout the novel made my heart swell with pride. And even Annabel. I found it hard to like Annabel at first. I felt sorry for her, yes. But I also hated helplessly watching as she tried to influence what Julia did with her own body. The part where Annabel finally realises the impact her death has had on her sister was incredibly moving, and it won me over completely to her character.
While the supernatural, otherworldly-ness of Anabel's 'ghost' can feel a bit jarring in an otherwise relateable school setting, the book has a great sense of humour and an honest, unpretty look at eating disorders.

"I don’t want to just be some cautionary tale." - Annabel

In many ways, this is a cautionary tale. Hennessy's accurate, and rare, portrayal of the mental health side of eating disorders speaks volumes about the power of the voice inside a teenage girl's head.

Annabel's guiding voice is the voice of pop culture and society telling us that being slim is beautiful. We consume images of skinny women daily; it's only natural for young women to assume that skinny is what is beautiful. And how easy it is to make young people feel like they're not good enough, pretty enough, thin enough.

However, I did feel that for people who are struggling with their own food issues, whether an eating disorder or something else, Annabel's realisation that it was her food obsession that killed her comes too late in the text. There is no questioning of Annabel's voice in Julia's head, Julia goes along with it, and readers are meant to know that it's unhealthy and wrong themselves.

I myself found this side of the text particularly difficult to read in January. Like many people, January was the month I pledged to finally get my body in shape. I wanted to eat better. I set myself the goal of exercising every single day. I have a bikini body to attain by my summer holidays after all.
But sometimes I would hear Annabel's voice in my head. Saying exercise more. Eat less.
Do you really need to eat cheese and crackers before bed? The answer is always 'yes' but Annabel's voice made me feel bad for making this choice.

For anyone with a history of eating disorders, or any mental illness, the book can be a difficult read. It's so eerily accurate that Annabel's voice doesn't always stop when you put the book down. But if you love YA for how it tackles the issues more 'grown-up' books are too scared to address, then you'll this.

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