I grew up with plenty of stories about teenage girls suffering with eating disorders. In the eighties, if you read young adult fiction for girls, you might have thought every girl was struggling with anorexia or bulimia. It was a girls’ disease, brought on by the pressures of the media for thin, ethereal girls. This was a pre-Beyonce world.
The idea that boys might also suffer from these diseases never appeared in fiction or, to my memory, in the teen magazines of the day. Starved gives the lie to that image.
Nathan’s father is a lawyer working to advance and maintain his reputation at his firm and in their small town. His mother is a lawyer’s wife who attends yoga and participates in charitable activities while she obsesses about her image, including her body. Her neuroses about food and fat and her husband’s about public image are transferred to their son and Nathan begins to crack when a new bike becomes fetishized by hours and hours of exercising. This obsession takes a darker turn when a wrestler-classmate introduces Nathan to purging.
At first Nathan’s mother and friends praise his slimmer form, but, as he moves from slim to ghostly, few dare to ask what is going on. It’s not until his mother finds him passed out on the living room floor near renal failure that concern moves to action. Even when he is hospitalized, however, his father denies the problem and acts out in group therapy, blaming Nathan for causing the family problems rather than being a victim of them.
The most heart-wrenching scene is when the nurses ask Nathan and the girls on the floor with him to lie on butcher paper and trace their body outlines. Nathan cries and sees for the first time what he truly looks like and so begins his way to health.
Starved is a beautifully written story that brought me into the heart of Nathan, his caregivers, and even his unsympathetic parents. I can’t wait to read more from this debut author.