A review of Skinny, by Donna Cooner
Point (Scholastic), 2012
By REBECCA, September 7, 2012
15-year-old Ever can’t make a move without hearing the voice inside her head—Skinny, who she imagines looks like a “goth Tinker Bell” (3)—that tells Ever that because she weighs 300 pounds she is disgusting, ugly, and unlovable. Skinny’s voice tells her that her mother, now dead, is the only one who could ever love her, that her crush could never reciprocate, that her step-sister, Briella, hates her, and that her best friend, Rat, only stays with her out of pity. Skinny’s voice even drowns out Ever’s own voice, telling her she can’t audition for the school musical even though she loves to sing, because people would make fun of her. So, when she is approved for gastric bypass surgery, Ever embraces it. But afterward, when Ever begins to lose weight, and people who have always avoided her are suddenly everywhere, how can she tell who likes her for herself and who just wants to be part of some kind of reality-tv-transformation? And can she hold on to the people who have always been there for her, or will she lose them too?
Skinny‘s worldview begins and ends with the territory of Ever’s mind and Skinny’s voice. We see each scene through Ever’s very limited, self-conscious perspective and Skinny’s comments to Ever intrude on those scenes like they do in Ever’s mind. Despite her obvious intelligence and her scorn for superficiality, Ever’s worldview is almost entirely occupied by her appearance and the appearances of others. Skinny’s voice equates beauty and thinness with the right to exist unquestioned in the world, the right to be loved, and the right to follow your dreams.The question that dogs us in the first half of the book, then, is what will Ever feel like after she has lost weight post-gastric bypass? Will Skinny disappear on the flip side?
I’ll come right out with it: I picked Donna Cooner’s book up at BEA (Book Expo America) where it was featured in the YA Editors’ Buzz Panel (are we still using the word buzz?—ridiculous; but I kind of like it) and was pretty unconvinced before I even started reading. I am always apprehensive to read YA books featuring a fat protagonist because so often they are fat-shaming, food-punishing Cinderella stories in which the fat character can only succeed (in life, in friendship, in looks, in love) by losing weight. At the same time, though . . . it’s a topic that feels personal to me and has the power to evoke a strong response when I’m reading—sometimes negative and sometimes positive. Further, editor Aimee Friedman mentioned that Cooner herself underwent gastric bypass surgery, so I thought perhaps she would bring a particular perspective to the issue.
But . . . it didn’t, really. Ever’s approval for surgery felt extremely sudden and, while she does consider the potential scary downsides of the surgery, her decision to have it seems more like a decision to chop off your hair and get a makeover rather than to undergo a life-altering procedure. Ever’s father clearly wants to be able to snap his fingers and have his daughter be a “normal” weight—out of love, sure, but it all felt a bit creepy to me, particularly because Ever is so young and, I would imagine, her body is still changing.
what was this book’s intention? did it live up to it?
But the surgery isn’t so much the point of Skinny. Cooner’s intention, I think, was to show the ways that self-consciousness is free-floating and extends so far beyond merely our physicalities that a physical change isn’t enough to change the way we feel about ourselves and how we can relate to the world. In this, Skinny really succeeds: anyone who has felt crippled by self-consciousness will recognize Ever’s manic vacillation between feeling successful and feeling hopeless. The persistence of Skinny’s voice forces Ever to confront the fact that Skinny’s voice is her own thoughts aimed like missiles at all her softest, most sensitive spots.
My favorite thing about Skinny is Rat, Ever’s best friend. He’s a smart, nerdy, tech-kid who cares deeply for Ever (even when she’s totally mean to him) and appoints himself her personal coach when she is recovering from surgery and trying to exercise. He makes a chart of her weight, her exercise goals, and the inspirational show tune that Ever chooses to represent the week.
And it’s here that Skinny pissed me off: Ever is obsessed with musicals and she measures her progress in freaking show tunes! You know what that means? (Well, besides that she has great taste.) It means that she has a personality. A unique personality + passionate tastes + a wacky best friend + a lot of smarts should mean that Ever is a complicated, interesting character. In reality, though, the fact that Skinny‘s worldview is limited to/filtered through Skinny’s voice means that Ever is only her body. Cooner clearly has a picture of Ever that goes beyond what we get, which, ultimately, can be summed up by a few stereotypes: Ever feels like the cliché of the angry fat girl who feels smarter than all the pretty people and hates everyone because she experiences humiliation in front of them, so she keeps them at a distance.
That isn’t to say that Skinny is all negative, though, certainly. In the end, we get a definite glimpse of the ways in which Ever might be able to give herself a more interesting kind of makeover—one where she revises her relationship with herself to see herself as someone with talents and qualities that deserve more attention than her exterior. And, although that move comes too late to truly enjoy it in this novel, it’s a gesture in the right direction and I was genuinely moved by it.
So, although it wasn’t really my bag, I think Skinny is a book that will be powerful and meaningful for a lot of readers who are struggling with similar issues of self-confidence and self-consciousness. And, therefore, I want to give you a copy!
Skinny will be released October 1st, but I want to give one reader the Advanced Reading Copy that I got at BEA! Fill out the form below and your name will be entered into the Reaping for your district . . . um, I mean, that is, uh, entered into the drawing! Remember to leave your email address so I can contact you. I’ll announce the winner a week from today!
procured from: BEA, in ARC form, with no compensation on either side
Note, September 14: And the winner of our giveaway is Joli. Congrats, Joli, and thanks to everyone who entered!