Book Look: The Girls At 17 Swann Street

As we addressed in my last post, I am snowed in. I have tackled the first book on my pile, and now I'm bringing you book two: The Girls At 17 Swann Street by Yara Zgheib.

The way these two books are related: they're both kind of about food, and I feel them both on a personal level, for very different reasons.

Small Potatoes was a celebration of food and life, of living authentically and being comfortable in who you are. The Girls At 17 Swann Street is what happens when your love for food turns against you, when you see your body as your enemy, and when the all encompassing desire to be perfect overrides even your most intimate relationships and good common sense.

I am no stranger to disordered eating.

My entire life, my weight has fluctuated: I have a condition called polycystic ovarian syndrome, and it basically means my hormones are really out of whack, my ovaries are really shitty at doing their job, and I can gain weight like no one's business. I also have PTSD and major depression, which also tends to work against me, but with medication and therapy, I'm currently winning that battle.

I'm aware that can change at any time.

I've also been working with a coach, exercising, trying to get my body back one pound/inch at a time. When I was younger, I was very active and could go days without eating. I loved dancing, gymnastics, and cheerleading (though the girls on my team taught me to hate it and, most of the time, them)...but I lost that desire to depression when I hit late middle school/early high school. Exercising became a lesson in humiliation, so I tried to keep my body in check in other ways.

All of that stayed with me into adulthood.

When I picked up this book and realized it was about a French ballerina with anorexia, I paused for a second. I struggle with food even now, on the cusp of my thirties, and like Anna I feel displaced, stranded in the Midwest with only the barest hope of escaping the hellscape. You know I have no love for Kansas, though she seems to try and find something redeemable in Missouri.

I feel for her.

This is contemporary fiction at its finest. The book shakes up the format a bit, quotes are in italics and you really have to be paying attention to know who's talking. There are no long, flowery descriptions or big paragraphs.

Everything is bite-sized, perfunctory, cut into chunks for easy consumption.

This book is written the way Anna feels about food, if that makes sense.

Here's this Parisian dancer who loved pastries and cocoa and life, who lived through her trauma until she had to sit with it. Meals all alone, waiting for her husband to come home, stranded in a country that is not her turned into a demon fer her, it morphed into all of her trauma and anxiety and guilt.

I love Anna, I want to hug her, but this book also taught me more about myself than I want to admit. For all of my exercising and restricting, I see something I have to fight against on a regular basis: the argument over whether or not this gummy bear is going to undo my progress, looking at bread and potatoes as though they're my enemy -- to be fair, I have a definite sensitivity to bread, but death before dishonor.

The story has a happy ending, and it's a good one. All of the characters are likable, when something bad happens to one of them you feel it in your soul, and there is a commentary about women's bodies and the validity of them that is definitely worth the read. Yara Zgheib is an excellent writer, I need to read more by her.

Verdict: If you do not have an eating disorder, definitely read this book, I think you may understand it better if you do. If you have an eating disorder and you aren't easily triggered, read this book and appreciate how far you have come.

But if you have an eating disorder that you don't have a good grasp on, do not read this book. Don't do it to yourself. Whatever progress you have made is good, I'm proud of you.


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