Recently, I had one of those moments where I am talking about a book that I really loved and the person I am talking to, in this case fellow blogger Christie Gibrich, says “yes, but . . .” So I asked her to write about her “Yes, But” because it is an issue that I myself even referenced last week in my review of Butter by Erin Jade Lange. I’ll let her tell you all about it.
A little background: Every Day is the story of a person known only as A who wakes up every day in a different body. For 24 hours A lives the life of this person.
My co-blogger, Karen, wrote a review of Every Day by David Levithan in June (find it here). I fully admit that I am a rabid fan of David Levithan- I had the pleasure of meeting him at a conference after his Boy Meets Boy came out, and I went into full fangirl worship mode and we talked for a good thirty minutes about his work and how much I loved it, and how much my teens loved that he was writing such realistic characters for teens- and for GLBT teens. So when I got ahold of an e-ARC of Every Day, I stayed up through the night to read it. And I was loving it.
Until I hit Day 6025.
Day 6025 is approximately 7/8ths of the way through the book. “A” has already been a variety of teens: twin linebackers, girls, gays, drug addicts, alcoholics, etc., and has handled those with a grace and understanding that others have pointed out could be more than a teen voice. Then he becomes Finn, and that understanding goes out the window. Finn is an obese teen, by Levithan’s own description “at least 300 pounds” wearing “an XXXL buttondown and some size 46 jeans” and when “A” wakes up in Finn’s body, the prejudice and loathing for his host starts from the moment he opens his eyes, and never goes away.
“Finn Taylor has retreated from most of the world; his size comes from negligence and laziness, a carelessness that would be pathological if it had any meticulousness to it. While I’m sure if I access deep enough I will find some well of humanity, all I can see on the surface is the emotional equivalent of a burp.”
“A” never bothers to see what’s beneath- most obese teens are not like this by choice. Unlike society’s belief that if you just walk it off or eat less, or that it’s because schools are cutting physical education, or that it’s just a choice, there’s usually deep psychological issues going on- depression, emotional abuse, suicidal impulses being turned inward. Or medical issues that are not being treated properly, because of lack of health care or parents not being advocates for their “fat/lazy” child. If it was as simple as just eating right, a teen could turn it around.
“The chairs are wobbly underneath me at the bookstore’s café. I decide to walk the aisles instead, but they’re too narrow, and I keep knocking things off the shelves.”*
Really? REALLY?!?! We need to have an image of this teen as GODZILLA or THE THING going through a public bookstore destroying things because he’s 300 pounds?!?!? There’s a difference between hyperbole for a point and encouraging the stereotypical mental image that society has for those who are overweight. Unless the chairs were antique wicker chairs, or the aisles didn’t meet minimum ADA requirements, this wouldn’t happen to a person of Finn’s description, and the twin linebackers would have had similar problems. Even then, if “A” bothered to access Finn’s memories like he did with other hosts to work in their worlds, he would have figured out how to work within his body instead of joining the chorus of disgust.
“If I were in a different body, this would be the time I would lean down and kiss her. If I were in a different body, that kiss could transform the night from off to on. If I were in a different body, she would see me inside. She would see what she wanted to see.”
“A” doesn’t bother to relate to Finn. He can’t get through the day fast enough; Rhiannon can’t be bothered to look beyond the surface to see “A” within Finn’s body. If he was only someone else, then things would be different and he could change everything … but because he can’t be bothered to work with what he was dealt, or be bothered to work around his own personal prejudice, the date and the time with Rhiannon was a waste. This furthermore enforces the belief that if you are overweight or obese or fat, you’re unworthy of love- because no one will ever be able to see the “real” you.
I was so let down by this chapter in Every Day. Up to that point I was loving the book, and how “A” was flipping from character to character. The fact that Levithan, who writes so well for teens, wrote this whole chapter, left me in compete disbelief. I know other YA librarians/readers who are split- some didn’t catch it, while others reacted the same way I did. It’s bad enough that we have the media shoving preconceived notions of how we’re supposed to look, how we’re supposed to act, and how we’re supposed to dress down our throats every day. Being told that having a certain amount of body mass makes us unworthy of love is unacceptable.
Have you read Every Day – what do you think? What ya titles do you think handle the issue of body image well?
*Editor’s note: I (Karen) recently read Skinny – which I will review soon – about another morbidly obese teenager, in this case a female, and she undergoes weight loss surgery after the chair she is sitting on stage breaks beneath her. And in Butter, reviewed last week, our main character has specially made school furniture to accomodate his size. In both of these titles, I thought the issue of weight and the emotions that go with it were handled well.