Disclaimer: Part of this review was originally posted on my book blog Lauren Reads YA. I have since edited it to reflect my current feelings on the book.
by Stephanie Elliot
Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary
Publication date: February 28, 2017
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Sixteen-year-old Pea looks normal, but she has a secret: she has Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID). It is like having a monster inside of her, one that not only dictates what she can eat, but also causes anxiety, depression, and thoughts that she doesn’t want to have. When she falls crazy-mad in love with Ben, she hides her disorder from him, pretending that she’s fine.
At first, everything really does feel like it’s getting better with him around, so she stops taking her anxiety and depression medication. And that’s when the monster really takes over her life. Just as everything seems lost and hopeless, Pea finds in her family, and in Ben, the support and strength she needs to learn that her eating disorder doesn’t have to control her.
Trigger warnings for this book (review is safe): anorexia, bulimia, vomiting, self-harm, suicide, mental hospitals
Note: I have ARFID, have self-harmed, and have been locked up in a mental ward against my will. In short, I know my shit. Proceed.
I am deeply disappointed. When I first heard that there was going to be a book about ARFID, I was so excited. Not just so I could finally see this side of myself in a book, but also because other people would learn about ARFID. Maybe I was naive, but the fact that the author’s daughter had ARFID (she has since recovered) had me hoping for some good representation.
What I got instead was a nightmare of a book that does not only wrongly represent people with ARFID, but is also extremely damaging to anyone with any eating disorder or mental health problem. I wouldn’t recommend this to anyone (because it’s not only hella problematic but also just shit in every other way) but I definitely wouldn’t recommend it to people with mental health problems. The way the main character talks about people with other eating disorders than ARFID is extremely harmful and stigmatizing.
Sad Perfect is badly researched, full of judgement and (slut-)shaming (and no character development to make up for it), and just feels… completely flat. It missed so many opportunities in describing the different ways that ARFID can affect one’s life, and explaining more about the inner workings of the disorder. Although some passages on eating were somewhat relatable, I don’t feel like the book accurately described the emotional turmoil I go through when I need to taste something new.
[You may also be interested in: My Eating Disorder]
The main character Pea is one of the most unlikeable and shallow characters I’ve ever read, which made it impossible for me to root for her recovery. She thinks she has it worse than everyone, that every other girl is a slut who only cares about Instagram likes, blah, blah. The actual phrase “not like other girls” was used. Enough said.
Pea refers to her eating disorder as ‘The Monster’. Sorry, but ARFID is not that poetic. My theory is that the author has written this book to try to make ARFID look as dangerous as EDs like anorexia and bulimia, but as a person with ARFID I can say that these disorders are simply not comparable. Yes, it is hard. Yes, I have starved myself. But they are completely different kinds of eating disorders.
Lastly, it’s written in second person POV, which can work when done well, but it was not done well in this book. It feels like a gimmick that was added because she realized the plot and characters on their own were too weak.
I would give this zero stars if I could. But sure, read this if you like instalove, bad representation, damaging depictions of eating disorders, girl-on-girl hate, misogyny, slut shaming, victim blaming, and just overall terrible writing.
“When you do eat the foods you can eat — your safe foods — the monster is usually quiet. You don’t limit your portions, you don’t worry about how much you put into your mouth, you don’t think about gagging.”
“You couldn’t explain to Alex why being at social events with food made you anxious. How you couldn’t really eat much of anything, and how thinking about food made you sick sometimes, and how even, if you were in the wrong frame of mind, watching other people eat a hamburger could make your own stomach churn.”
You may enjoy these books instead:
- Elena Vanishing by Elena Dunkle & Clare B. Dunkle
- The Weight of Zero by Karen Fortunati
- Looking For Alaska by John Green