Winnie Salamon, Pretty Girls Don’t Eat, Ford Street, July 2017, 208pp., $17.95 (pbk), ISBN: 9781925272772
At one time subjects such as youth suicide and eating disorders were considered taboo. In the last few months, movies such as 13 Reasons Why and To the Bone have attracted both praise and criticism, for addressing these complex issues. Some feel that these movies may act as triggers, or provide a ‘how to’ guide for those already teetering on the brink of dark paths, while others think by shining a light on these topics, discussions may be had and some of the misplaced ‘glamour’ associated with these choices may be swept away.
Author Winnie Salmon belongs to the latter of these camps, and has chosen to address topics related to eating disorders through her story of Winter Mae Jones, a talented fashion designer and seamstress, who dreams of a career in the fashion industry, but believes that her weight may stand in the way of success.
While her friends, model-esque Melody and geeky, gay George tell her she is gorgeous and talented and perfect just the way she is, Winter feels guilt and shame when she thinks about her body. Her mother’s dysfunctional relationship with eating and body shape doesn’t help either. At first, the diet makes her feel in control and fabulous – but as it spirals into laxative abuse with serious health consequences, Winter begins to realise that it is not her weight that is holding her back.
Winnie Salmon, in an article for the Sydney Morning Herald, says:
“Art and literature and film enable us to talk about difficult issues through storytelling. A good story develops empathy; it helps us understand what it might be like to be somebody else. It helps us learn about the world and the people in it. A story that’s told well, even when it’s confronting, does more good than harm.”
Pretty Girls Don’t Eat does just that. It is incredibly easy to read, with lively dialogue and warm, engaging characters. The story deals with a number of difficult situations teens are likely to encounter, and provides resolutions that are positive, without being preachy. As an adult reading the book, I felt that some of the characterisation was a little too stereotypical (the beautiful girl from the wrong side of the tracks, and the geeky gay male best friend who is in love with the ‘hunk’), but I think that this will be overlooked by less experienced readers.
Overall, Pretty Girls Don’t Eat does a good job at presenting a complex topic in an approachable way. Aside from the aforementioned stereotypes, it is well written, and is very accessible for readers aged 13 and above. Rather than brush challenging aspects of mental health under the table, books like this offer an opportunity for open discussion, and may help young individuals realise that they are not alone in their struggles. This title is a must for every high school library.
Reviewed by Kay Oddone