Ann is 16, but she’s a size 17. Her mom is a tiny size 6. Ann feels like her weight has been the driving force of her life. So when her aunt announces she’s getting married in 10 weeks, Ann decides to lose 45 pounds in two and a half months. What she discovers on her journey adds up to more than pounds lost.
There’s a certain danger in crafting a YA novel about a character who wants to lose weight. It’s difficult to strike the right balance, and it’s easy to become too didactic or present dangerous messages to teens. I’m going to be honest: there is no space on my shelf for books that pander to their audience about weight loss or shame characters or readers for being overweight. Luckily, Barson’s novel mostly escapes the terrible tropes that so many books about teens losing weight fall into. This mostly successful and inherently readable novel is recommendable.
It helps that Ann provides an authentic first-person narration. She’s completely aware of the fact that she uses food to compensate for emotions, and that this is a frequent problem in her life. So when she sets out to quickly lose weight using a diet program she orders off the TV, readers can tell that she’s sort of at her wit’s end. Readers also know that it isn’t going to be as easy as she thinks it will be.
What also works here is how gradual the changes are for Ann, not with weight loss, but with how she begins to see herself and her relationship to food. She’s always compared herself to her incredibly thin mother, but when she starts to see how it impacts her much younger stepsister, she realizes that she’s linked to her mother and food in a very real way. These gradual realizations make the rising action of the novel all the more believable.
Readable prose and a compelling story make this one a standout. Recommended.
45 Pounds by K.A. Barson. Viking Juvenile: 2013. Library copy. Read for the 2013 Cybils.