Today, I'm reviewing 45 Pounds (More or Less) by the lovely K.A. Barson. I'll be honest - I had difficulty putting into words how much I treasure this book.
Still, I hope my review does it justice!
Hardcover, 264 pages
Published July 11th 2013 by Viking Juvenile
Format read: Hardcover (owned)
Synopsis via Goodreads:
She is 16.
And a size 17.
Her perfect mother is a size 6.
Her Aunt Jackie is getting married in 8 weeks, and wants Ann to be her bridesmaid.
So Ann makes up her mind: Time to lose 45 pounds (more or less) in two
Welcome to the world of informercial diet plans, terrifying wedding dance lessons, endless run-ins with the cutest guy Ann’s ever seen—and some surprises about her NOT-so-perfect mother.
And there’s one more thing. It’s all about feeling comfortable in your own skin -- no matter how you add it up!
On the other hand, I also knew that the reading experience would likely be a difficult one for me. I was in a dance troupe during high school, where the director advocated for students to lose weight in unhealthy ways. It took almost all of college and graduate school for me to recover from that stage of my life, so I wasn't sure how I would feel about revisiting it.
In the end though, my desire to read a story that I figured would benefit not only me, but the teenaged girls that I mentor, won out. I have to say, I'm very glad I made that leap.
Things that worked:
Ann is one of the most relatable and realistic characters I've read in YA recently. She's sweet, occasionally snarky and generally thoughtful, but she's also shy and painfully self-conscious.
Her constant struggles with her weight over the years, has left her with the type of muted self-confidence that routinely leads her to wonder painfully damaging thoughts like, why a popular classmate would possibly want to hang out with her.
Barson does a fantastic job of humanizing Ann's struggles from the very first page, but never in a way that makes you feel sorry for her or want to pity her. Instead, Barson manages to hit that perfect note where Ann's struggles with her appearance absolutely feels universal. Even if the reader hasn't necessarily struggle with weight in the way that Ann has, we have likely had similar thoughts on how we appear to others, and the constant struggle to perfect ourselves for scrutinizing eyes.
I loved watching Ann's transformation from the uncertain, frustrated girl in the first half of the book, to the more confident, assured and selfless girl at the end.
As for the secondary characters, they all fit together in Ann's world like perfect puzzle pieces. Raynee's the type of best friend that any girl would want to have - crafty sewing skills FTW! - while Ann's grandmother was bluntly and refreshingly honest.
I even found myself appreciating Ann's antagonists - both in the family and out. Sure, they were annoying, clueless and even cruel at times, but they also couldn't beat Ann's spirit in the end. They made her stronger, and I loved that she could turn their negativity into positive energy.
* The romance
The romance factor in 45 Pounds is ridiculously charming, and Barson hits all the right notes of will-he/won't-he call factor that I love in my YA romances. However, it's also not overwhelming. Barson makes the smart choice of having Ann focus on learning to love herself, before embarking on a new relationship.
I strongly believe that Barson's underlying message that self love is more important than any cute boy out there, is one that reader - especially parents and educators - will absolutely appreciate.
* The serious issues
So I'm sure you're all wondering - how did Barson handle Ann's weight struggles?
The answer? Realistically, frankly and sincerely. Ann's struggles, from the incentive clothes, to going on ridiculous diet plans, to even the self-bargaining, are ones that I think any reader can relate to. I know that I winced while reading some of Ann's tactics, because I've been there and have definitely done that.
But again, Barson is also very careful not to preach. She doesn't have Ann instantaneously realize that her initial weight loss plans are unhealthy or unrealistic. Instead, she carefully walks Ann (and the reader) through the process of realizing that yes, the diet plan that Ann buys does help her lose weight. However, it still doesn't help her relationship to food.
Once Ann comes to that realization for herself, especially after seeing firsthand how her relationship with food has impacted other family members, that's when she begins to change her own understanding, consumption and relationship with food for the better.
There's a lot of unspoken lessons to be taken away from Ann's gradual realization, all of which I think will be different for each individual reader. However, I think that the underlying idea that learning to love one's self can be an underlying struggle, is one that anyone can understand.
Of special note: Without giving spoilers away, I was really moved by Barson's explanation for Ann's mother's own obsession with her weight. I think a lot of women, both young and old, have experienced something similar, and I think there are powerful, underlying lessons there.
Things that didn't work:
I can usually think of one or two things that I would have loved for an an author to explore more, or things that I wanted answered in other books, but Barson absolutely knocks it out of the park with this book. It's been about a week since I've finished reading, and I'm still thinking about it.
This is a book that tackles a subject that is difficult to read, but Barson does so with thoughtfulness, gentle good humor, and an obvious and general understanding of the issues at hand.
I highly recommend this book for all YA readers, but also for teachers and parents who are looking for a book that will help them engage with the teens in their lives. This is a book that will help both sides understand each other better, and spark thoughtful, honest discussion.