Tuesday, 23 February 2016

"13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl" by Mona Awad | Book Review

13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl by Mona Awad
Publishing Date: February 23, 2016
Pages: 224
Publisher: Penguin Canada
Links: Goodreads | Indigo | Book Depository | Kobo

Lizzie has never liked the way she looks. She's "the fat girl" and she has low self esteem when it comes to her appearance. As Lizzie grows up, she decides to lose weight, but that process brings problems of its own. Will Lizzie ever be anything other than the fat girl?

Let me start off by saying, this wasn't what I was expecting. I was looking forward to a charmingly funny story about a big girl who's uncomfortable with her body at first, but learns to love herself at whatever size she is. This is not that book.

We see Lizzie through different stages of her life - when she's fat, when she's thin, when she goes by different variations of her name. Through much of 13 Ways, I found it hard to identify with Lizzie, but around the middle I started to get more into the story and was more able to appreciate it for what it is: a story about a human who has a hard time liking herself because of her weight and low self esteem, and how it affects all of her relationships - with herself, her female friends, her husband, and her parents.

I've seen this book described as "hilarious" and "funny" multiple times, but personally, I found the funny parts few and far between. And even then, I didn't find them so much funny as I did relateable. When Lizzie goes clothes shopping, for example, she searches for the items that are the "Least of All Evils". That is so incredibly true to life, and I couldn't help but laugh out loud when I read that. It's so hard to find plus-size clothes (although it's getting easier nowadays), that that's what I've personally been reduced to for most of my life, and I'm sure most, if not all, plus-size people would identify with that.

Mona Awad gets right some of the anger that comes with being bigger, as well as some of the hardships we face, including socially, societally, and personally. At the same time, I found it hard to identify with Lizzie for most of the book. I found that she had so much self-loathing, which I know is true of a lot of us fat people because the media and our North American society as a whole tells us that we're basically the opposite of the ideal, attractive body type. I was hoping that she'd gain some sort of self-confidence in herself somehow, but that didn't even happen when she lost the weight. She became obsessive in her diet and exercise, and she became so bitter - about herself, about other thin women, about fat women...no one was safe from her judgment.

I really liked how the author portrayed Lizzie's relationships, they were all really interesting. I found myself sobbing uncontrollably through one particular chapter, where we get to see more of her relationship with her mother. Her mother wouldn't tell her anything, but it was so clear that she knew she was sick and was trying her best to enjoy and absorb every moment with her daughter during her visit. She knew she wouldn't have very many chances to see her daughter anymore because Lizzie lived far away, and it was so heartbreaking to read.

I have a complicated relationship with this book. On one hand, I found it hard to identify with the sad, angry Lizzie, but on the other hand it's interesting to read how her relationship with herself affected her relationships with other people. This feels like something I would have read in one of my university English classes, and I did always enjoy dissecting these kinds of stories because they raise important and interesting issues. Ultimately, I found 13 Ways depressing, but it certainly made me think.

*This book was sent to me by Penguin Random House Canada in exchange for an honest review.

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