The Girls at 17 Swann Street by Yara Zgheib ~ 384 pages ~ to be published 2/5/19 by St. Martin’s Press
The chocolate went first, then the cheese, the fries, the ice cream. The bread was more difficult, but if she could just lose a little more weight, perhaps she would make the soloists’ list. Perhaps if she were lighter, danced better, tried harder, she would be good enough. Perhaps if she just ran for one more mile, lost just one more pound.
Anna Roux was a professional dancer who followed the man of her dreams from Paris to Missouri. There, alone with her biggest fears – imperfection, failure, loneliness – she spirals down anorexia and depression till she weighs a mere eighty-eight pounds. Forced to seek treatment, she is admitted as a patient at 17 Swann Street, a peach pink house where pale, fragile women with life-threatening eating disorders live. Women like Emm, the veteran; quiet Valerie; Julia, always hungry. Together, they must fight their diseases and face six meals a day.
Yara Zgheib’s poetic and poignant debut novel is a haunting, intimate journey of a young woman’s struggle to reclaim her life. Every bite causes anxiety. Every flavor induces guilt. And every step Anna takes toward recovery will require strength, endurance, and the support of the girls at 17 Swann Street.
What I Thought:
*I received this book for free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.*
As someone who has never struggled with an eating disorder, I wasn’t sure what to expect going into this novel. I tend to veer toward the other end of the spectrum (where I eat way too much), so I was quite surprised when I found that I related to some of the main characters obsessions with food. I didn’t expect that so much of a book about people struggling with anorexia would focus on food. But, after reading the story it makes a lot of sense.
The main character, Anna, struggles with so much more than just food. She also struggles with maintaining her emotional state. I had no idea that anorexia can mess with how you handle stress, and that your mood can swing wildly from happy to angry to depressed. I also didn’t know that it could cause so many systems of your body to shut down, including your hormones and your heart. She was also exhausted and cold most of the time, which I did not know was a side-effect of anorexia. Anna just could not see the problems she was facing. Throughout, she continually claimed that she only had a little problem with her weight and that she was just trying to be healthy. Her view of herself was completely skewed.
Being placed in that mindset was heartbreaking and terrifying. There were also thoughts that were uncomfortably familiar to me, as a woman trying to conform to the ideals of society in regard to physical appearance. The fact that so many women feel so much pressure to look a certain way and so turn to these methods to reach that ideal is frustrating and, again, heartbreaking.
Walking through this struggle with Anna was exhausting, but quite enlightening. It was a really hard book to read, but also an important one. I think it is good to be able to look at this disease from the perspective of someone actively working to overcome it. It helps you to feel empathy for them, and might give you the tools to potentially help someone in your own life, even yourself.
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I gave The Girls at 17 Swann Street 4 STARS!
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Have you read any other works of fiction about eating disorders? If so, which ones would you recommend? Let’s talk down in the comments!
Love and happy reading,