Skinny, by Diana Spechler is as divine as a gourmet dessert. I suspect this is one novel that will be found on many beaches, and in the hands of many at the cottage, this summer. Skinny is delicious, smart and funny. Skinny is a unique story inspired by the author’s summer stint at a children’s weight loss camp. It is a work of creative non fiction. It takes a serious jumping off point and an austere subject – health issues, both physical and mental, relating to childhood obesity, and it spins that off into a tongue in cheek almost satirical look at an industry that is perhaps out of control. It is a savvy title that can at once refer to the weight loss industry itself and the ‘skinny’ or truth at the heart of the relationships people have with food. There were moments when Skinny reminded me of a Michael Moore documentary on food. There were other moments when the main character Gray also harkened back to the main character at the heart of the Margaret Atwood novel, The Edible Woman. As the novel begins Gray, the main character, 26, is dealing with deep grief and guilt. Her very obese father has recently died. “After I killed my father, he taught me that honesty is optional,” she states. In the wake of his death she finds that she is unable to stop eating. One day, as Gray hunts through her father’s financial papers and emails, she finds evidence she has a half sister, Eden. Eden’s private life is quite exposed through social media and so Gray already thinks she knows a lot about her half sister when she signs on as a camp counsellor at the weight loss camp Eden is attending. The characters in Skinny are composites, which shouldn’t be surprising as these characters are much too funny, ironic and colourful to be entirely real. Take Lewis, for instance. Lewis is the camp founder who, without spoiling the ending of the book is slightly hypocritical and completely full of himself. He is a full blown narcissist who takes $11,000 per child for a summer that promises to transform children from overweight, bullied, victims to svelte, healthy members of society. Sheena is the very comical former foster child from the wrong side of the tracks who ascends to activities coordinator and wins the love of all the campers. She is also slightly deranged. Mikey is Gray’s moody boyfriend back home and Bennett is the well sculpted summer fling, an assistant at the camp. Spechler is a talented writer effortlessly moving between flashback type scenes and present day. She writes with skill and expertise, and the flow of the narrative is never strained, despite the jumps back and forth in time. Her flashbacks are so organic that the reader hardly knows they are happening and isn’t ever jolted. Spechler is also the author of Who By Fire. She lives in New York City and her writing has appeared in the New York Times, GQ, Details, Never and Glimmer. Skinny is contemporary in its topic matter and cultural references and somewhat horrifying in its harsh look at the obesity industry. If even a portion of this story is true as the author says it is, Skinny will be slightly horrifying for a whole group of parents that spend money sending their children to overnight camps.
Skinny, by Diana Spechler, Harper Perennial, 368 pages, April 19, 2011, New York, Paperback $14.99. Thriftymommastips gives this one a $$$$ out of $$$$$. I received a copy of the book free for review.
Angel Sister is a sweet, moving, tale that has all the elements of a good story. It is a story of family and forgiveness and survival, but Angel Sister is also an unlikely adoption story of sorts set against a backdrop of depression era America. Kate Meritt is the middle daughter in a big family struggling to find their way and stay strong during a terrible economic time that has tested many and left others destitute. Kate is a spirited girl who speaks her mind. With a tangle of dark hair that is often unkempt, a penchant for saying what she thinks, and a stronger interest in playing outside than in, she is not like her quiet girly sisters. "Brothers are alright, but a sister, she can understand things about you without ever saying a word. It's like your heart divided and made another person." Kate's mother reminds her she is fortunate to have sisters, but Kate sometimes seems so much more mature than the rest of her siblings, that she is not so sure any of her existing biological brothers or sisters are a blessing. Kate's father Victor is an alcoholic with what would be known today as post-traumaticstress disorder from fighting in the war. The mother Nadine is the daughter of the town's preacher, a man who has always inspired more fear than respect and who clearly objected to his daughter's choice of husband. He is a slightly foreboding presence and an influence on their entire community, a rural spot ironically named Rosey Corners. Kate is out running a jar of jam to her grandfather, Father Reece, the preacher, one day when she finds a small girl Lorena Birdsong, abandoned on the church steps by a family that apparently had little choice but to flee town with no money, no jobs and a very sick young son. What is interesting about this book is the historical insights into a time when this is really what life would have looked like for so many in America. As well, the author gives us a unique look at the early phenomenon of adoption before it was really even regarded as such. Adoption here is a very sad and unfortunate result of the economy. It is not legally binding in any way, but more so a kinship arrangement in which a town got together and decided what would be best for the child and the community in general. It is common sense in a lot of ways. But Kate is the one who has found the little girl Lorena, dirty and waiting on the church steps for someone to be her "angel." She takes one look at Kate and quickly decides Kate must be her angel. The elder girl and her family really are in no position to add another child to their stressed full, but loving home, and yet her heart and conscience tell her the girl belongs with them. Kate cleans little Lorena up and takes her home with her. Conflict arises when Kate and the family fall for the child, but the church and community agree she must go live with a childless and somewhat unfriendly couple. At the point it is announced by Grandfather Reece in the church that Lorena shall go live with the Baxters, a couple of people stand up to protest, but it is Kate's voice that rings out loud and clear. Unfortunately at that precise moment she chooses to speak out, the preacher has a stroke in front of the congregation. Poor Lorena Birdsong goes to dwell with the Baxters and Kate keeps an eye from afar as the plot gets more complicated. I won't spoil the end of the story for my readers, but there are multiple levels of plot complications towards the end of the book that make this novel a really interesting book despite a rather slow start. Gabhart is a lovely writer and her characters in Angel Sister are really dynamic, especially the females. Kate is a charming and really three dimensional youth you will enjoy spending time with. I picked this book to review because of the title and the hint of an adoption plot. I enjoyed it because of the great female characters and the historical insights into a period of time that seems to echo, in more ways than one, the current socio-economic climate of southern Ontario.
Ann Gabhardt is the best-selling author of several novels. She has written The Outsider, The Believer and The Seeker.
Angel Sister, by Ann Gabhart, 2011, Revell Publishing, 407 pages, $14.99
This one gets $$$$ out of $$$$$
I received this novel for free to review, and this in no way impacts my original review.
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