Funny, frank, and visceral; an unconventional consideration of bulimia.

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THIN, AND I

Diagnosed with bulimia at 15, Keller recalls her journey through rehab in this triumphant debut memoir.

During her sophomore year in 2007, Keller, who grew up in Philadelphia, was invited into the school nurse’s office along with her father to be told that she must attend the Redford Center for Eating Disorders. Her father burst into tears, declaring that he had failed as a parent, and Keller felt that she had “failed as a child.” Keller briefly describes her struggles with her weight in elementary school; she was 200 pounds and constantly bullied. By fifth grade, she learned “that being fat is a bad thing” and started crash dieting. By 15, she was hospitalized on account of her declining health—a direct result of her eating disorder. Soon after, she was ordered by the state to receive “mandatory inpatient treatment.” Keller’s illness is personified as “ED,” whom she envisages as “an attractive GQ business man [sic], complete with a strong jaw and expensive suit.” ED looks on disparagingly when she eats and congratulates her when she makes herself vomit. Keller’s memoir charts her stay and progress at rehab, where she was treated for bulimia nervosa, major depressive disorder, and social anxiety disorder. It also details her camaraderie with other inpatients as they devise ways to defy the strict rehabilitation regime, like wedging open the automatically locking toilet door with a pencil so that it could be used without supervision and secretly gifting one another laxatives. In her introduction, Keller writes: “I have read approximately 1.5 fuck-tons of memoirs that discuss mental illness and/or an eating disorder. They are all so gloomy. My story isn’t sad.” This isn’t strictly true. Keller’s description of a “gray, skeletal girl,” similar to a “victim from those Holocaust movies,” whom she wheeled through the facility is deeply sad and unnerving: “I was fixated on her wrist and collar bones. They were so tiny, so frail, like those of an elderly person. They were perfect.” However, her approach is by no means gloomy; she adopts an assertive, confrontational tone from the get-go: “It’s a funny word, isn’t it? Re-hab. It’s a dirty word. One that cannot be spoken above a whisper.” Referring to a fellow inpatient as “the corpse” and a pair of anorexic twin sisters as the “Addams Twins” may be interpreted by some readers as flippant. Others will understand this dark humor as the fortifying quality that allows the author to complete the program successfully. The memoir takes an unforeseen twist in the final chapters, in which Keller describes her post-rehab life working as a fashion model in New York. She say, “it was the skinniest I had ever been,” which raises momentary concerns as to whether this will be a success story; yet her exposure and ultimate dismissal of casting directors and bookers within the industry who castigate models for being overweight proves both enlightening and empowering.

Funny, frank, and visceral; an unconventional consideration of bulimia.

Pub Date: June 28, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-983294-94-5

Page Count: 260

Publisher: Self

Review Posted Online: Oct. 31, 2019

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DEAR MR. HENSHAW

Possibly inspired by the letters Cleary has received as a children's author, this begins with second-grader Leigh Botts' misspelled fan letter to Mr. Henshaw, whose fictitious book itself derives from the old take-off title Forty Ways W. Amuse a Dog. Soon Leigh is in sixth grade and bombarding his still-favorite author with a list of questions to be answered and returned by "next Friday," the day his author report is due. Leigh is disgruntled when Mr. Henshaw's answer comes late, and accompanied by a set of questions for Leigh to answer. He threatens not to, but as "Mom keeps nagging me about your dumb old questions" he finally gets the job done—and through his answers Mr. Henshaw and readers learn that Leigh considers himself "the mediumest boy in school," that his parents have split up, and that he dreams of his truck-driver dad driving him to school "hauling a forty-foot reefer, which would make his outfit add up to eighteen wheels altogether. . . . I guess I wouldn't seem so medium then." Soon Mr. Henshaw recommends keeping a diary (at least partly to get Leigh off his own back) and so the real letters to Mr. Henshaw taper off, with "pretend," unmailed letters (the diary) taking over. . . until Leigh can write "I don't have to pretend to write to Mr. Henshaw anymore. I have learned to say what I think on a piece of paper." Meanwhile Mr. Henshaw offers writing tips, and Leigh, struggling with a story for a school contest, concludes "I think you're right. Maybe I am not ready to write a story." Instead he writes a "true story" about a truck haul with his father in Leigh's real past, and this wins praise from "a real live author" Leigh meets through the school program. Mr. Henshaw has also advised that "a character in a story should solve a problem or change in some way," a standard juvenile-fiction dictum which Cleary herself applies modestly by having Leigh solve his disappearing lunch problem with a burglar-alarmed lunch box—and, more seriously, come to recognize and accept that his father can't be counted on. All of this, in Leigh's simple words, is capably and unobtrusively structured as well as valid and realistic. From the writing tips to the divorced-kid blues, however, it tends to substitute prevailing wisdom for the little jolts of recognition that made the Ramona books so rewarding.

Pub Date: Aug. 22, 1983

ISBN: 143511096X

Page Count: 133

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Oct. 16, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1983

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Necessarily swift and adumbrative as well as inclusive, focused, and graceful.

A LITTLE HISTORY OF POETRY

A light-speed tour of (mostly) Western poetry, from the 4,000-year-old Gilgamesh to the work of Australian poet Les Murray, who died in 2019.

In the latest entry in the publisher’s Little Histories series, Carey, an emeritus professor at Oxford whose books include What Good Are the Arts? and The Unexpected Professor: An Oxford Life in Books, offers a quick definition of poetry—“relates to language as music relates to noise. It is language made special”—before diving in to poetry’s vast history. In most chapters, the author deals with only a few writers, but as the narrative progresses, he finds himself forced to deal with far more than a handful. In his chapter on 20th-century political poets, for example, he talks about 14 writers in seven pages. Carey displays a determination to inform us about who the best poets were—and what their best poems were. The word “greatest” appears continually; Chaucer was “the greatest medieval English poet,” and Langston Hughes was “the greatest male poet” of the Harlem Renaissance. For readers who need a refresher—or suggestions for the nightstand—Carey provides the best-known names and the most celebrated poems, including Paradise Lost (about which the author has written extensively), “Kubla Khan,” “Ozymandias,” “The Charge of the Light Brigade,” Wordsworth and Coleridge’s Lyrical Ballads, which “changed the course of English poetry.” Carey explains some poetic technique (Hopkins’ “sprung rhythm”) and pauses occasionally to provide autobiographical tidbits—e.g., John Masefield, who wrote the famous “Sea Fever,” “hated the sea.” We learn, as well, about the sexuality of some poets (Auden was bisexual), and, especially later on, Carey discusses the demons that drove some of them, Robert Lowell and Sylvia Plath among them. Refreshingly, he includes many women in the volume—all the way back to Sappho—and has especially kind words for Marianne Moore and Elizabeth Bishop, who share a chapter.

Necessarily swift and adumbrative as well as inclusive, focused, and graceful.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-300-23222-6

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Yale Univ.

Review Posted Online: Feb. 9, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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