Elliot’s novel helps to fill a gap within teen narratives about disordered eating.
Sixteen-year-old Pea (so nicknamed by her father) has good days and bad days. She has avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder, which makes consuming foods difficult and horrifyingly unpleasant. She feels as if she has a monster inside her, one that makes it difficult to be “normal”: it gives her social anxiety, causes depression, and makes eating in social situations a nightmare. But when she falls fast and hard for high school junior Ben, she feels different—happy—for the first time in forever. Although she starts therapy for her ARFID, she secretly stops taking her antidepressants, trying to privately keep the monster at bay. But soon the unmedicated Pea spirals with uncontrollable mood swings, disordered eating, and urges to self-harm. Despite endless support from Ben and others, it’s up to Pea to realize that true change can only start from within. The entirely second-person narration works, for the most part, to create a personal stake for readers in Pea’s journey as well as real empathy for Pea: “You want to appreciate food. You do. You just don’t know how. And you so badly want to learn.” With no specific cultural markers, both Pea and Ben read as white.
A pat and somewhat clichéd conclusion luckily does not tarnish the rest of the narrative, which treats Pea’s mental health struggles with care, nuance, and respect. (Fiction. 14-18)