We all look at ourselves in the mirror. We all twist and turn, sucking in our stomachs, pushing at our bodies here and there, thinking, it could be a little better. Some of us do something about that feeling. But what if no matter what you did, you never saw anything change. What if that voice that told you to suck in your stomach told you to stop eating? All the time. That’s HUNGER.
According to Booklist:
Seventeen-year-old Lisabeth is fighting a series of demons the only way she knows how: by refusing to eat. Her cold, acerbic mother; distant father; and friends who disapprove of her and each other all trigger her inner Thin Voice, which derides food, confirms her fatness, and shames her into the control necessary to reject food. As she sinks deeper into anorexia, she summons Death, one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, who in turn assigns her a black steed and a scale and transforms her into Famine, another of the Four Horsemen. Kessler has written an unusual allegory about eating disorders, one that works on several levels. As Lisabeth gallops across the world, she witnesses examples of both gluttony and starvation. Using her newfound power, she combats famine, visits horror upon the privileged, and strives to bring balance to the world, all while ignoring the need for balance in her own life. Kessler offers a refreshingly new approach to the YA eating-disorder genre that reinforces the difficulty of conquering these diseases. Grades 7-10. –Frances Bradburn
HUNGER is a great book. You know those books that get better toward the middle and then are awesome at the end? That’s not HUNGER. It was awesome the whole way through, and a large portion of that has to do with the deftly handled characterization, so let’s look at that first.
Character/s: Lisabeth Lewis is a character you automatically sympathize with from the moment you start the book. After following her so intimately throughout the book, not only seeing things through her eyes but through the eyes of the Rider Famine, it’s impossible not to feel a kinship with her and her journey. She goes from being fragile and lost and confused to being undeniably strong and knowing so much more about herself and the world as a whole. I don’t think I’ve ever read a book where the main character matured so much and in such a natural way. Kessler renders a character that is born of a real person and real situations—I found out that this was the literal truth, once I read the afterword in HUNGER. And it shows, making the book unbelievably poignant. Lisa, however, isn’t the only character that held such a weight throughout the novel. In their own ways—from the considerate, albeit trodden Mr. Lewis to Lisa’s boyfriend James—all of the characters had that significance about them. Even Suzanne, the character that we saw the least in the story was an important element—standing as the first person to notice that Lisa needed help. I loved that not one of the characters in Lisa’s life blamed her for her disorder. It was in no way her fault and I think that’s a crucial message about eating disorders.
Style: HUNGER was filled with important messages, but it was through Kessler’s simple, straightforward and unabashedly honest style that those messages made such an impact. In no way did Kessler ever look away from the hard truths of eating disorders or the nature of people in general. She was candid and I appreciated that even when what I was reading made me cringe. But I felt that if she could write it, if people could live, I could damn well read every word. And I did, hungrily (I thank you). Kessler’s wordings were in no way decorative, but she created a very elaborate world with levels and layers that you want to continue to peel away, even if it stings a little. Because you know after you feel better, it’ll be worth it.
Plot: The plot of HUNGER wasn’t very extensive. That is to say, it followed the theme of the book in its simplicity. The most compelling part of it wasn’t Lisa’s treks as the Rider Famine, but her internal battle against herself. That’s where most of the action happened, and I think it worked really well. Where I was expecting epic battle of the supernatural (and I did get one of those), I got an internal struggle that kept me just a riveted and left me just as satisfied (and exhausted).
Setting: Ranging from viewing friend Tammy’s bathroom through the eyes of Famine to the dusty outskirts of a village that has clearly been touched by hunger, the settings in this book are as palpable as the real-life situations that are dealt with within them. Setting didn’t play a significant role throughout the book, but it was delivered effectively and I believed each new location was completely supportive of the scenes and situations.
And that’s why I give it a shining A. 90, to be exact.
If you haven’t read HUNGER yet, you need to. Get a copy here on Amazon. I’m behind (and so are you), because RAGE was out this past month of April. Let’s get caught up! Check out more about Ms. Kessler on her site here.