This grueling and intense memoir covers the many years that Elena Dunkle was treated for anorexia, and is published simultaneously with Clare B. Dunkle’s Hope and Other Luxuries, which gives her mother’s perspective. The daughter’s story is a challenging read, as for two-thirds of the book we are in the head of a young woman whose life revolves around her number – what she weighs – and who is driven by a harshly critical inner voice, goading her on all the time.
Elena is an overachieving perfectionist, and scoffs at the idea of an eating disorder: “The meal-skipping I do these days isn’t a disorder because it never lacks order.” She is a control freak, super-organized and never without a planned day. She shows the tenacity and cunning of an anorexic – perfecting the art of silent vomiting, secreting BB pellets in her bra when she goes to be weighed, buying drinks with lids so no-one can see what she is, or more likely isn’t, consuming.
As the doctors and therapists delve to find out “What Went Wrong”, the treatments Elena receives often appear cruel, and her parents, both scapegoats and martyrs, seem to be flailing in the dark. It is only after her sister has a baby, Elena herself miscarries, and finally opens the door to a memory from when she was 13, that she is at last ready to start on the road to healing. Even then, “recovery is a path not a destination,” and it takes many more months for her to feel she has begun to shake off the shackles of her addiction.
An author’s note at the end is clear that this should not be used as a blueprint for either anorexia or for treating anorexia, and gives some resources for those who are struggling with eating disorders. However, I would still be reluctant to recommend this to any teen girl, as the tone of the majority of the book is triumphant about restricting intake, purging and over-exercising. Even I, as an adult with no particular issue with food, felt quite odd about eating as I was reading this book.