Donna Cooner, Skinny

Electric Monkey (Egmont), 2013. ISBN 978-1-4052-6398-6

Fifteen year-old Ever owes her name to fairy-tale endings, but ‘happily ever after’ certainly doesn’t fit for her. Since her mother died she has covered herself in grief and weight. The way she lives has become predicated on her size. She tries to isolate herself from embarrassing situations and hurtful remarks, but without enough success. To avoid bringing attention to herself, she even hides her beautiful singing, although Rat, her one friend, urges her to audition for the school musical. Worse still are the persist hateful comments from Skinny, a voice in her head, a voice that shreds any remaining self-esteem. Ever finds it impossible to lose weight, and decides on gastric bypass surgery. Rat supports her through the operation and the lengthy recovery process. A friend of her sister’s gives her a glamorous makeover. She starts getting admiring looks. Gorgeous Jackson, a friend in pre-obesity days, asks her to partner him at the school ball. Life is a whole lot better. If only Rat hadn’t faded from the scene, and if only Skinny wasn’t continuing her horrible commentary. Then comes the ball. Ever is mortified to find Jackson kissing another girl, and her sister dancing with Rat. But it is her sister who finally makes her realise that Rat only ever had eyes for her. He is there for her when she auditions for the musical, and gets the part. Romance blossoms. And even though Skinny still occasionally puts in a word or two, Ever realises she doesn’t have to listen. Happily ever after isn’t so inappropriate after all.

This is a well written, humorous, thought-provoking and enjoyable book that will appeal to lots of KS3&4 girls. Ever is an attractive hero, and Skinny a brilliant invention. The first person narrative is very successful, pulling the reader into Ever’s shame and self-loathing, then her gradual realisation of the harm Skinny has done her, and finally her triumph over self-doubt. The author herself had gastric bypass surgery, and clearly knows the impact of excessive weight, and what it feels like to shed it. However I do have qualms, particularly in relation to potentially vulnerable readers. One is the ease of Ever’s path to drastic surgery. There is no exploration of other routes into weight loss, and we read nothing that suggests proper psychiatric support before or after the operation, surely vital, especially for a teenager. My other concern is the emphasis on physical attractiveness as the means to fulfilment, happiness and love. Rat explains his love for Ever: ‘Because you are, and always have been, beautiful.’ It is clear from the context that he means physical beauty. What about her funniness, her cleverness, her courage, her caring nature, her wonderful singing, her uniqueness? A book that is definitely worth having, and that ideally will be used alongside others with slightly different messages.