Sunday, May 26, 2019

The Year I Didn't Eat

Pollen, Samuel. The Year I Didn't Eat.
March 5th 2019 by Yellow Jacket (first published 2019)
Public Library Copy

Fourteen-year-old Max has been struggling with anorexia for a while. His family is doing all of the right things: he's in therapy, they don't make a big deal about food, and his brother Robin is especially supportive. Still, while he is generally holding things together, there are rough moments. When things don't go according to plan (like Christmas dinner with relatives), he gets very upset. Things are going fairly well at school, and he has good friends, as well as a new girl in whom he is interested. He is a runner, and the gym teacher understands that while he can't play contact sports, he doesn't have to sit on the bench. Max is, however, getting slowly worse, and when his brother moves out and his parents separate, his symptoms worsen and he becomes really ill. He starts writing to E., and this helps him more than his journaling had been. He assumes this person is his crush, but who ends up being one of his good friends. While Max continues to struggle, we end the book feeling that he will eventually learn to control his anorexia.
Strengths: This is an #ownvoices narrative; the author suffered from this disease when young, so the details about the thought processes are very good. The parents and brother are particularly well drawn; their love and confusion about how to help Max are palpable, and the toll his problems take on the family are realistic. I'm glad that Max is shown in therapy, and there is some discussion of residential programs. Although the tone of this is light, there is no hiding of details about how bad not eating is for Max's body and health.
Weaknesses: There are some British details about food and schooling that might make this confusing for some readers. There is also a lot of locker room discussion about asking others to exhibit body parts that was a bit alarming to someone unfamiliar with it. Max handles it in a clever way, but this makes me worry about British males.
What I really think: The cover isn't great, and this had a very different feel to it than other books on the topic, but I think I will buy it, since this is on the rare topic of male anorexia, and more middle grade appropriate than Shahan's 2014 Skin and Bones. Just not sure how much it will circulate.
Ms. Yingling

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