How much derision can a teen endure?
Chelsea has a fantastic singing voice, dark brown curly hair, beautiful feet, and skin that she describes (never mentioning race; everyone seems white) as both “olive” and “pink.” Also, she’s fat. She knows it’s unfair that “overweight people are modern-day lepers,” but that doesn’t alleviate the pain of her mother’s enforced food restrictions, schoolmates who bump, poke, taunt, and leer, and little kids who chant, “Fatty, fatty, two-by-four. Couldn’t fit through the bathroom door. So she did it on the floor.” In her corner are kooky classmate Melody, Chelsea’s first friend, and Dad, who makes tasty snacks for her, sings along to movie musicals with her, and saves money for her life goal: opening a shoe store. Chelsea slogs through dismal days, and then things get worse. Fat-hating bullies, sublimating their attraction to her, beat her, rip her shirt and bra, and post photos of her breasts online. Struyk-Bonn portrays the assault’s aftermath particularly well, deftly showing Chelsea’s traumatization through actions rather than emotional descriptions. After a while, Chelsea pulls herself back up, using a film autobiography assignment, a therapist, Melody, and a crucial, empowering declaration about not having lost any weight: “Who cares?” It’s not a loud victory, but it’s a relieving one.
Valuable for showing a miserable fat protagonist getting happier—without the seemingly obligatory weight-loss arc. (Fiction. 13-16)