Sunday, March 03, 2024

Louder Than Hunger

Schu, John. Louder Than Hunger
March 5, 2024 by Candlewick Press
ARC provided by Young Adult Books Central 

In this novel in free verse, Jake is struggling as middle school progresses. He views himself as "different", and kids in his school often give him a hard time about his interests or the way he dresses. He loves being with his grandmother, with whom he shares a passion for Broadway musicals, and would rather read to older residents of a retirement home than hang out with children his own age. He has a very loud voice in his head that tells him that if he doesn't eat, he will get smaller, and his problems won't be as bad, especially if he can manage to disappear. He has lost a lot of weight, and his mother, who struggles with depression herself, is worried. His grandmother is, as well, but has her own health struggles. He's managed to hide his weight a bit by wearing overalls with big sweaters over them, but when he finally visits a doctor, he is admitted to an in patient treatment facility. As much as he wants to disappear, he is not fond of being in the facility and losing his freedom. He doesn't want to talk about his feelings, and balks at having to eat anything, since he knows he will gain weight. When an exam reveals that his heart rate has been affected by his weight loss, he must stay in a wheelchair. There are a few bright spots, like meeting Kella, who is in the outpatient program. The two have some shared interests, and like to talk, but Kella is improving and soon doesn't come to the facility. Jake is intractable, and struggles with the doctors who want to see him improve. He is granted some day passes, but he still cannot deal with the challenges of having to eat food. His grandmother dies, and this is a devastating blow. He feels that there is no one else who really understands him, but he does have conversations in his mind with Frieden, a statue in a park near his grandmother's house. He eventually starts to find some things to look forward to, and his love of books, music, and the theatre give him a reason to fight for his own survival. Once he is released from full time treatment, it is still a process to become healthy again. 

Based on the real life experiences of educator and one time Scholastic ambassador John Schumacher ("Mr. Schu"), this is a timely exploration about one struggle with anorexia. Jake's mental state is well depicted by the sometimes choppy, frantic verse outlining his panic, self-loathing, and pervasive grief. The language isn't necessarily poetic, but just like in Fipps' Starfish (another novel in verse about body image), the fragmented format helps deliver the message. 

There is a note from the author about how his life unfolded after the events of this book, as well as a list of resources for anyone who might be struggling with similar issues. 

I wish there had been a little more of the book showing the descent into the eating disorder, instead of starting so close to the crisis point. The verse format made it difficult for me to understand the origins of Jake's problem, as well as how the connection to art was able to help him see a way out. The connection to the statue, Frieden, while possibly very important to Schu, also was a bit confusing.

There is no shortage of books about eating disorders, starting with Levenkron's  1978 The Best Little Girl in the World. There are even a decent amount of books about young men with anorexia, like Vrettos' 2006 Skin and Shahan's 2014 Skin and Bones, which are more Young Adult in focus or Pollan's The Year I Didn't Eat (2019). Any book with a medical tie-in should be reevaluated for currency, and it's important that books on these topics be fairly recent. Blume's Deenie, for example, offers outdated treatment and attitudes toward scoliosis. Add Louder Than Hunger to an updated list of books covering body image disorders along with Dee's Everything I Know About You (2018), Petro-Roy's Good Enough (2019), Gerber's Taking Up Space, Lerner's A Work in Progress, and the graphic novel by Edkins Smaller Sister.

Ms. Yingling

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