Friday, September 24, 2010

Review: Hunger by Jackie Morse Kessler

Lisabeth Lewis has a black steed, a set of scales, and a new job: she’s been appointed Famine. How will an anorexic seventeen-year-old girl from the suburbs fare as one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse?

Traveling the world on her steed gives Lisa freedom from her troubles at home—her constant battle with hunger, and her struggle to hide it from the people who care about her. But being Famine forces her to go places where hunger is a painful part of everyday life, and to face the horrifying effects of her phenomenal power. Can Lisa find a way to harness that power—and the courage to fight her own inner demons?

A wildly original approach to the issue of eating disorders, Hunger is about the struggle to find balance in a world of extremes, and uses fantastic tropes to explore a difficult topic that touches the lives of many teens.

We've all seen those made-for-tv movies or after school specials about anorexia and bulimia, cautionary tales that educate about the dangers of these diseases. In Hunger, Jackie Morse Kessler manages to move past the external aspects of eating disorders and go straight to the heart of the matter to show how anorexics feel and think. Lisa should be a typical seventeen-year-old girl but she's not. She's obsessed with food and is convinced that she'll never be thin enough to keep her boyfriend, James, or gain the respect of her parents. She feels inadequate when it comes to her mother; Lisa believes that her mother is overcritical of her and yet feels unworthy of her love. The only person she feels close to is her friend, Tammy, another teenage girl suffering from bulimia. One particularly terrible night, Lisa decides to kill herself with an overdose of pills but before she can swallow too many of them she's compelled to answer the doorbell. At the front door is a deliveryman who hands her a package and tells her "Thou art Famine." The next day, after Lisa turns her food into ash and meets Death and his horse in her backyard, she realizes that her life is about to get really complicated.

I was pretty uneasy as I read Hunger. I had no idea how this fairly short book by an author I've never read before was going to end or how becoming Famine, one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, would change an anorexic teenager for the better. I wondered this especially after Lisa meets War, a huge and dominating woman who revels in confrontation and violence. What would be the redeeming message from Hunger other than the obvious party line that you'd expect in a YA novel: anorexia is a dangerous disease and can affect someone who shouldn't be vulnerable to a disease like this. It's okay - Kessler doesn't preach here and I was pretty proud of Lisa at the end, even if the ending was a little too easy but she did find a way to use her powers for good, thereby turning the whole concept of the Four Horsemen on its ear. Part of me is interested in seeing how Kessler handles the next book, Rage, but I'm not sure I have the stomach for it. (Rage's main character is a teenage girl who is a cutter.) I am now more interested, however, in her paranormal romance series about Jezebel the succubus.

Hunger will be available on October 18, 2010. This reviewer's copy came from

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