The premise behind this book, although a friend recommended it to me, made me skeptical. A young woman loses her father and goes to fat camp to reunite with the sister she never knew she had. It honestly seemed like a story that would read straightforward and bland. But I was wrong. Let me repeat that, readers. I was wrong. For once, judging a book by its cover flap let me down.
My synopsis: Skinny: A Novel, by Diana Spechler, is about a woman named Gray who goes to fat camp to work as a counselor. Unlike her peers at the camp, she isn’t really there for the program, given the fifteen pounds she maybe needs to lose. She is there because, after her father’s death she finds out she has a younger sister, and Eden (her sister) is going to be a camper there. Throughout the summer, the reader follows Gray’s insecurities, her unqualified coworkers, the secrets surrounding her life, and a steamy summer fling.
Page after page, all I could think about was the temptation this woman was facing. Temptations to settle for less than the best in her life, to do something illicit, to bury her father’s secrets, and of course, the temptation to eat.
Obsessive-calorie-counter-turned-compulsive-eater, Gray is a character with real-life flaws that many women can relate to. She rationalizes her flaws until she is forced to confront them, on a symbolic rainy day in the midst of chaos at camp. Soon after, the story takes an about face that even I, cynical reader and astute “guesser of plots” that I may be, didn’t see coming.
The best thing about this book was how it puts you into Gray’s reality, more than most of the books I’ve read in the last few months. You feel her pain, her urgency, her elation, and her need to be authentic. By the third chapter, you just can’t deny her her story, and you begin to feel as though you were meant to hear this tale, to help you in your own life.
I spoke with my friend who read this book, and she told me she related to Gray through the steamy affair she has. Not a spoiler, I assure you readers, because you can tell she is going to jump the personal trainer from the first minute they talk. What you don’t realize until almost the very last page is just how disconnected Gray and her trainer really are from each other. For my friend, however, she lived vicariously through the disillusion and it inspired her to be more aware of her own discontent.
For me, the book represented lust, but not through the affair. I loved Gray’s connection to food, and both the shame and comfort she found in it. It is almost as though her relationship with food and health and body image represent a different kind of affair, the kind you don’t want to admit, even to yourself. We’ve all got our obsessions, and Gray is just this character who, upon close inspection, embodies all of our secrets.
Guilty pleasure meets an easy read in Skinny: A Novel, and I recommend it to anyone who needs something just a shade darker than your typical young adult fiction novel. Appealing on a primal level, I rate this book a PICK.