Book Review: Believarexic by J.J. Johnson

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Jennifer’s family doesn’t believe her when she tells them she needs treatment for her eating disorder. Reluctantly, they sign her into inpatient, and it isn’t long before she thinks she’s made a terrible mistake.  The locked doors, tough nurses, and harsh rules aren’t exactly what she imagined.  But in order to be discharged, Jennifer must adhere to the rules and work on getting better, which means confronting some uncomfortable truths about herself–and her family.

Based on Johnson’s own life, this autobiographical novel offers an interesting and fresh take on eating disorders and treatment.  Most remarkable is Johnson’s ability to write with clarity about the disorder without delving into the aspects that might trigger readers; a thing that is very common in memoirs about eating disorders.  Johnson also chooses to set her novel in the 80s, when she was a teen herself, and the details are spot-on and help to add dimension to the story.

The setting and the characters are vivid and authentic.  Jennifer’s struggles with her family in particular feels achingly real, and readers will identify with her inability to communicate effectively with them.  It’s clear Johnson did a lot of soul-searching in the writing of this novel, and the payoff is great.  It’s a hell of a story about healing and growing up, and readers will be glued to the page.

There are a few missteps here: the novel abruptly changes from verse to prose as Jennifer enters the second stage of her treatment, and the narration also switches from third to first-person.  These stylistic choices won’t trip up most readers, though.  There are also a few story lines or plot points that seemingly appear and disappear at random, making for an at-times choppy read.  Again, these are minor quibbles with an overall compelling book.

On the whole, this is a powerful story about growing up and getting well.  A bit of unevenness doesn’t overshadow the impact of the story or its characters.  Once again, J.J. Johnson demonstrates her adept skill at writing for young people.  Recommended.

Believarexic by J.J. Johnson. Peachtree Publishers: 2015. Library copy.

 

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