A successful PR associate must come to terms with resurrected high school demons.
On the surface, Olivia Morten’s life seems perfect: she has a rewarding career in which she finely orchestrates celebrities’ public images; an attractive, successful neurosurgeon husband; a dream house; and of course, a flawless body. It’s evident from the beginning of Palmer's (Girl Before a Mirror, 2015, etc.) latest, though, that a shameful secret lurks under this veneer: the memory of what she terms Fat Me, the “forever alone, overly emotional, out-of-control” embodiment of her high school self. Olivia has hidden her past so well that even her husband knows only bits and pieces of the truth, and in the image-obsessed Hollywood bubble in which Olivia works, it’s vital that she never let herself slip. But a chance encounter with her high school crush (and tormentor), Ben Dunn, at a coffee shop inconveniently brings Fat Me to the forefront of her consciousness. And when the perfect volunteer opportunity for salvaging a celebrity client’s reputation arises—at a Halloween Fair for foster children in the high school at which Ben is now principal—Olivia’s forced deeper yet into her own personal time machine. As the Halloween plans progress (as does the sexual tension with Ben) and her marriage and personal life begin to fracture around her, Olivia is finally compelled to take a hard look at Fat Me and the person she’s become in order to hide her. This leads to an arc of self-realization that’s satisfying but somewhat oversimplified, implying that one can lay years of restrictive eating patterns by the wayside in one sudden burst of self-acceptance. Nonetheless, Palmer develops her characters well—Olivia is complicated, flawed, and reflective, transforming what could have been a flat, superficial novel into one that’s by turns funny, painfully honest, and hard to put down (though descending periodically into clichéd territory). Palmer uses a light touch to broach the subject of female body image, both in Olivia’s mind and as a constant societal background hum—from the crusty baguette eaten only by the men at a dinner party to the way Olivia’s celebrity client must be seated with her back to the restaurant, “to lower the risk of a photo of her putting food in her mouth.” It’s vindicating, then, to watch Olivia rise above the noise, even when it’s as simple as asking for the bread to be passed to her at a dinner party.
Honest and entertaining.