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March 11, 2014

Review: Starved by @wordymikesomers

by Barbara Bavier

When I read a Young Adult book, I expect good content, adventure, a lot of "like" and "you know" phrases, and maybe a little teen romance. Sometimes, though, a YA book will take me by surprise with its' scope and maturity. That was definitely the case when I read Starved by Michael Somers, an unexpected story of a little-talked-about subject.

Nathan is not a typical high school senior. He's not interested in Homecoming, Prom, Senior Skip Day, girls, dates, or even graduation.  He's a major overachiever, and his self-esteem is almost non-existent. He's obsessed with his GPA and his SAT scores -- and how many times he needs to throw up today to make up for the two bites of apple he ate for breakfast. Nathan is anorexic and bulimic.

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Nathan's life is immersed in rules imposed by his parents, his school, and himself. His mother, an obvious alcoholic with an eye toward rising in the societal ranks, is in charge of Nathan's outward appearance. She requires her son to dress in designer clothes, be immaculately groomed at all times, and associate with people she believes come from the "best" (defined richest) homes. His father, a dominating attorney, controls Nathan through physical intimidation and scorn. His teachers factor into the mix as well. Nathan thinks they, like his parents, expect him to score a 'A' on every paper.

To cope with the overwhelming pressures of school and home life, Nathan turns to the only thing he can control:  His body image. He begins a journey down a long, dark road of starvation, binging and purging.

Nathan sets up his own strict rules, boxing himself into a tight corner with a "to do" list that ironically imitates the restrictions already running rampant through his life. He allows himself to buy junk food, but not to eat it. He stores it in a plastic container under his bed, where it looms as a constant reminder of what he cannot -- must not -- have. He has to do hundreds of jumping jacks each day. He can’t eat fats before noon. When he does eat, he makes himself purge to the point where he can vomit without sticking his finger down his throat.

When his body finally calls "enough," Nathan's mother finds him passed out on the living room floor and rushes him to the hospital. From there, he's admitted to an inpatient facility. Nathan weighs 112 lbs.

The remainder of the story takes place at the inpatient facility. There, Nathan must still deal with his original issues, but now he's also got doctors, counselors, and other patients -- all girls -- forcing him to face these issues head on, every day. Now, he's expected to EAT. Real FOOD. Every DAY. Three TIMES a day. Not only that, he's not allowed to exercise, and he's expected to participate in group, individual, and family therapy.

Nathan copes by making more rules for himself. He does his 100 jumping jacks a day on the sly. He only participates in therapy if he is forced, and then only with minimal effort and concentration. He eats only Ensure, until he discovers it actually has more calories than the "real" food.

And then one day, Nathan is talked into participating in a group activity. He finds himself laying flat on a piece of butcher paper while a counselor outlines his body in thick, black marker. Nathan finally really SEES his body, not through a mirror, but as others see him:

"What I saw made me think of the cop shows and the chalk outlines of dead bodies. There I was, down on that paper, drawn out in black marker, like a dead person. I didn't take up much space at all. The outline looked so thin. I felt huge though! There I was, on the floor, not huge at all. It was like Steve had taken someone from a concentration camp and drawn his body. That couldn't be me; it couldn't. I couldn’t figure out what I was seeing . . . Who was this skinny boy on the paper? And what happened to him?"

This exercise encourages Nathan to look his "rules," and the center's rules, in a new light. One set of rules in particular encourage him in a positive way. He calls these rules the "Magic Numbers." They are the weights he needs to attain in order to progress at the center and finally be released:

"My first magic number was 122 pounds. That’s when I could do yoga and Creative Movement and volleyball. My second magic number was 130 pounds. That’s when I could go off the unit but stay in the hospital. My big granddaddy get-me-discharged magic number was 145 pounds. When I first got here, I weighed 112 pounds, so those numbers seemed pretty big to me at first. It may as well have been 200 pounds to gain. From where I sat, there wasn't much difference. But as I got to 120 and 121 pounds, believe me, I noticed the difference. Freedom, or something sort of like it, was within reach now."

Finally, with this new self-realization and change in direction, it seems as though there might be a light at the end of Nathan's long, dark tunnel. Or is there?

Starved by Michael Somers is a uniquely told tale told in three distinct ways. First, and most obvious, is the rarely discussed subject matter of male anorexia and bulimia. These are predominantly female illnesses, so just the fact that they are the subject matter of a Young Adult novel is unique.

Second, the stylistic choices Mr. Somers has made throughout the novel give it a unique perspective. Different sections of the novel are voiced through the eyes of different characters. Some chapters focus on Nathan's mother speaking in the third person; some reflect the doctors' and counselors' notes; but most are seen through Nathan's own first-person point of view. By using multiple viewpoints, Mr. Somers allows the reader to see the tale in a spherical way. As the story progresses, it almost feels as though you're circling the story from above, dipping down to explore different sections of a cohesive, whole circle.

The final unique quality comes from within Mr. Somers himself. He arms himself with a strong knowledge and deep understanding of his subject matter that enables him, as a writer, to put careful thought behind each word choice. He has somehow poured part of himself into the character of Nathan. In doing so, he has given a very special perspective to Nathan and to the story as a whole. It's an outsider's view to the very inside heart of this character, and it enables us, the readers, to connect to the story on a much deeper, more intimate level. There is a definite feeling of truth to be found there.

Book info:
ebook & paperback
Published November 2012 by Rundy Hill Press
ISBN13: 9780988367203
Source: Author

Girl Who Reads is an Amazon advertising affiliate; a small fee is earned when purchases are made at Amazon through the above link. A free copy was provided by the source.


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