Skinny, at first glance, looks like a “beach read”. The cover shows two young women/teenagers wearing swimsuits. Their arms are linked, and they are at the beach.
The story in this book, however, is not just a “fluffy summer read”. It covers some very deep and serious concepts including body image, eating disorders, and how the guilt a person carries can influence her actions.
The book places the reader directly inside the head of the main character, Gray Lachmann. She is 26 years old, struggling to cope with her father’s death, and stuck in a pattern of compulsive eating. She believes that she has killed her father, and is completely consumed by guilt.
Almost on an impulse, she decides to become a counselor at a summer weight loss camp for children and teens in the hopes that it will change her life. Things do not go as expected, and this is both good and bad.
Gray grew up being very close to her father. She has memories from when she was little about her father trying to teach her things about the Jewish religion, and the times when he would carry her on his shoulders. He was very devout in his religious beliefs – except when it came to the restrictions about food. He would eat bacon, and shellfish, and anything else he wanted, in massive quantities. My impression of him was that this was a man with a compulsive eating disorder and possibly an addiction to food.
Gray also got along with her mother, a petite, quiet, woman who wasn’t as religious as Gray’s father was. She barely ate. I’m not entirely certain if Gray’s mother had an eating disorder, or if she just happened to be a person who didn’t enjoy food. In any case, Grey inherited some very disordered ways of thinking about food. She would count to 1600 calories, and then stop eating for the rest of the day. She exercised obsessively.
As an adult, Gray started a serious relationship with a man named Mikey. He was a comedian, and there was a time when Gray was pretty much managing his career. They lived together, and were in love with each other. Unfortunately, Gray’s father disapproved of Mikey. He wasn’t Jewish, and he didn’t have a real job. A pretty intense argument occurred between Gray and her father over Mikey. In order to avoid “spoilers”, I will leave out the exact details and aftermath.
After her father dies, Gray is absolutely consumed by guilt. She truly believes that she killed him. Family and friends, who come to mourn, bring over lots and lots of food. For the first time in her life, Gray is eating without considering the calories. She is starving. This is where her turn from barely eating to compulsive eating happens. She thinks that her father has “cursed her” by giving her his insatiable hunger.
Eventually, and I will leave out exactly how so as to avoid “spoilers”, Gray discovers that she has a half-sister (her father’s child with another woman). She begins “cyber-stalking” Eden, and reads her entire blog. From the blog, she learns that Eden’s mother is sending her to a weight loss camp for the summer. Gray decides that she must become a counselor at that camp. She will meet her half-sister, bond with her, and tell her stories about their father. This, somehow, will make everything all right again. It will appease her father’s ghost (so to speak).
In addition, Gray believes that the weight loss camp will help her to stop compulsively eating (or binging). She creates this fantasy scenario where she loses all the weight she gained since her father’s death, forms a strong bond with her half-sister, and starts a brand new life. That life doesn’t include her boyfriend, Mikey, but it is as though Gray is not quite consciously aware that she is done with that relationship.
The weight loss camp is not at all what she expected. The campers (and counselors) will be sleeping in dorm rooms and eating in an indoor cafeteria. That doesn’t sound much like “camping”. The man in charge of the camp is overweight, has delusions of grandeur, and some crackpot ideas about weight loss.
Gray soon discovers that not even one of the people who have been hired to work at the camp have backgrounds in what they are asked to do. For example, she is randomly assigned to teach water aerobics. The nurse isn’t certified. The cafeteria workers aren’t dietitians. The co-counselor that Gray is assigned to work with is a nineteen year old named Sheena. She is only a couple of years older than the group of five, female, teenage campers that they are in charge of.
All of the people who were hired to work at the camp are fat, with one exception. Bennet is an older guy who is lean, muscular, and extremely good looking. Gray takes one look at him and notices that her insatiable hunger has instantly disappeared. It is as though she has replaced her obsession with food with an obsession with Bennet. The two get to know each other.
One of the many things that really struck me about this book was the teenagers who were sent to the weight loss camp. All of them are obese. Most of them hate their bodies. None of them have the slightest idea of the difference between the way your body should feel during exercise and the way your body feels when you are seriously injured. They are constantly complaining about fake injuries and sitting down. You can tell that these are the kids that are the “outcasts” in their “real lives”. Some of them find a strange type of popularity at the camp, though.
One of the female teenage campers has severe allergies. She wears an Epi-Pen on a lanyard. This poor kid has eczema and food allergies that can kill her. As someone who also has food allergies that can kill me, and who has to carry around an Epi-Pen, I found myself relating to this character. Food is more dangerous for her than it is for any of the other campers.
The book ends in a very dramatic, unexpected, way. It ties up some loose ends in a way that I found to be very satisfying. Readers get to watch Gray grow, change, and finally start coping with her grief over her father’s death. She also comes to terms with her relationship with food, despite all the chaos that happens at the summer camp.
I highly recommend this book. It is one that you can easily fall into, with interesting, well developed, characters. I’ve read the book twice now and noticed things in it the second time around that I’d missed the first time. Those of you who have eating disorders or body issues, or love someone who does, will be nodding your head in recognition with what some of the characters say and do.