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Book Review: BRACED by Alyson Gerber

The first time I ever had to wear my backbrace in public, I threw up. That’s what I remember the most. We were going to one of my brother’s baseball games and I was anxious that everyone would be able to tell that I was wearing it. So I barfed, as one does.

The second thing I remember is the clothes I had to wear. I wore elastic waistband pants to fit over the awkward brace and large, oversized shirts that I had hoped hid the fact that I was wearing a brace at all.

One day as we walked to school, a boy and I got into some type of altercation. I don’t remember what it was about, all I remember is that he said he was going to punch me in the stomach. Instead of begging no, please don’t punch me, I got this evil Grinch smile on my face – you know, the one where the Grinch decided he’s going to go down to Whoville and steal all the presents – and I told him go ahead, punch me his hardest right in my stomach. He did and got the surprise of his life as his fist met the resistance of my fiberglass brace. I suppose, looking back, I’m lucky he didn’t break his hand, or at least a finger or two.

I don’t remember my doctors or any office visits. I mostly just remember the brace itself, the way it made me feel about my body, and my attempts to keep it hidden like some deep, dark secret.

braced

So I was very interested in reading BRACED by Alyson Gerber. I can think of very few books that tackle the topic of Scoliosis and what it is like to wear a corrective brace. At the time when I was a teen, the only book I had was DEENIE by Judy Blume, which meant everything to me. Everything.

BRACED is the story of Rachel Brooks, who is a devoted soccer player that has a family history of Scoliosis – Scoliosis can run in families. She soon finds herself having to wear a back brace to help correct her Scoliosis in an effort to avoid surgery, which her mother has had. What follows is the intense roller coaster of emotions that accompany her having to wear this brace 23 out of every 24 hours.

Many of the scenes in this book really resonated with me; I felt that Gerber accurately depicted the emotions of trying to find clothes, telling friends, and adapting to life in a brace. This is not surprising as Gerber herself wore a corrective back brace. I found it remarkable that Rachel is told that she can continue to play soccer; during my time in the brace I was taken out of PE and everything. But I admired Rachel’s dedication and commitment as she tried to continue in a sport that obviously means so much to her.

There were some other parts of the story that felt a little more didactic to me, which can happen when writing an issues based novel. Rachel’s conversations with her parents particularly came across as stilted and unnatural, in part because this is where Gerber reminds the audience what is at stake for Rachel. I did, however, appreciate the narrative arc that led to Rachel opening up to her parents and to all of the members of the Brooks family learning to be better and more honest communicators with one another.

And I really appreciated the strong friendships that Rachel has to help carry her through as she adjusts to life in a brace. I found her friends to be authentic and supportive, though realistic issues do indeed come up.

This book is set in a middle school setting, and it is successfully written to that age range. I wouldn’t call it high quality literature, but I think it hits all the right emotional notes and addresses a topic that is often overlooked so I definitely recommend it. All readers will appreciate Rachel’s emotional struggle and dedication to finding a way to be the best at something she loves despite challenges. I’m glad I read it and wished I had it to read when I was wearing my own brace.

Publisher’s Book Description:

The first contemporary novel about a disorder that bends the lives of ten percent of all teenagers: scoliosis.

Rachel Brooks is excited for the new school year. She’s finally earned a place as a forward on her soccer team. Her best friends make everything fun. And she really likes Tate, and she’s pretty sure he likes her back. After one last appointment with her scoliosis doctor, this will be her best year yet.

Then the doctor delivers some terrible news: The sideways curve in Rachel’s spine has gotten worse, and she needs to wear a back brace twenty-three hours a day. The brace wraps her in hard plastic from shoulder blades to hips. It changes how her clothes fit, how she kicks a ball, and how everyone sees her — even her friends and Tate. But as Rachel confronts all the challenges the brace presents, the biggest change of all may lie in how she sees herself.

Written by a debut author who wore a brace of her own, Braced is the inspiring, heartfelt story of a girl learning to manage the many curves life throws her way.

Scholastic, March 28, 2017

 

The girl in the fiberglass corset: a story about scoliosis and eating disorders

The first time I had to wear it in public, I threw up.  It was at my brother’s baseball game and there I was running to the bathroom to hurl.  You see, unlike the corsets of old, it didn’t make me look thinner.  No, it made me look . . . well, large.  It being a fiberglass cast that went around my torso to help correct my spine.  I had scoliosis.

I remember it was the same year I read Deenie by Judy Blume and thought, wow that would suck.  Later that year they called us all in to the nurses office and had us bend over and touch our toes.  It turns out that I, too, had scoliosis.  My spine was curved.  For 2 years I had to wear a fiberglass corset 24/7 and then for another 2 years I had to wear it at night.  Nothing says have a good night’s sleep like a fiberglass corset digging in your hips.

My scoliosis diagnosis also led me down another dangerous path: eating disorders.  You see, I couldn’t stand how big the corset made me look, and I didn’t want people to notice, so I wore oversized clothes and began to shrink, both literally and figuratively.  I tried to make myself as small as possible so no one would notice the fiberglass cast and how it contorted my body and made me feel like a freak of nature.

By the time I was in high school I was down to eating just a granola bar for lunch and as little dinner as I could get away with eating.

By the time I was 19 I was 5 foot 9 and weighed 102 pounds.  I was eating just a granola bar or blueberry muffin a day, washing it down with one can of Pepsi.  This is when I began dating the Mr. and if you asked him what his first impressions of me were he would not say I was thin or beautiful.  No, he would tell you that I slept a lot.  I was tired all the time because food is our energy and I simply didn’t have any.

In college I began my journey of recovery.  They say you are never fully recovered; like a drug addict, you simply learn to manage I guess. I eat 3 square meals a day and generally am at peace with who I am, but it took me a while to get there.  All teens struggle with body image and self acceptance issues, but some of them will spiral into full blown eating disorders of some sort.  It is important that we add books in our collections, both fiction and non, to help raise awareness and help teens find stories that they can relate to.  Having read the story of Deenie helped me in my journey with scoliosis; it was comforting to read that someone else thought and felt the things that I was feeling.  That’s what story does for us – helps us know we are not alone.

The title of this post is a play on the book title The Girl in the Steel Corset by Kady Cross.  A good read to be sure, but the title always makes me think of my fiberglass corset – long ago dead and buried thankfully.  View our Top 10 list of books about eating disorders and body image for stories to share with your teens.  Please be sure to add 101 Way to Help Your Daughter Love Her Body by Brenda Lane Richardson to your collections.  And of course, if you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, it is important that you talk to a doctor.