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Book Review: Can’t Look Away by Donna Cooner

Publisher’s Description: 

Torrey Grey is famous. At least, on the internet. Thousands of people watch her popular videos on fashion and beauty. But when Torrey’s sister is killed in an accident — maybe because of Torrey and her videos — Torrey’s perfect world implodes.

Now, strangers online are bashing Torrey. And at her new school, she doesn’t know who to trust. Is queen bee Blair only being sweet because of Torrey’s internet infamy? What about Raylene, who is decidedly unpopular, but seems accepts Torrey for who she is? And then there’s Luis, with his brooding dark eyes, whose family runs the local funeral home. Torrey finds herself drawn to Luis, and his fascinating stories about El dio de los Muertos, the Day of the Dead.

As the Day of the Dead draws near, Torrey will have to really look at her own feelings about death, and life, and everything in between. Can she learn to mourn her sister out of the public eye?

Karen’s Thoughts:

It is interesting to note that just as I have been spending a lot of time witnessing and thinking about YouTube culture (see here and here), I started reading this book which demonstrates the power of YouTube culture.  [Read more…]

Book Review: Skinny by Donna Cooner

In 1963, approximately 1 in 22 teens were considered obese.  Today, 1 in 6, or 22%, are considered obese. More and more teens are turning to weight loss surgery to help them lose and control their weight.  This is the story of Ever Davies and her quest to control both her weight and the vicious voice inside her head that she calls Skinny.

Skinny by Donna Cooner
Coming from Scholastic Point in October of 2012
ISBN: 978-0-545-42763-0

“It just wasn’t fair. God made some people naturally skinny and some people naturally fat. I’d never know how my life would have been different if I’d been one of the ones He made skinny. I didn’t know how He chose. This one will be blonde, with long thin legs and great skin. This one will be short and fat with legs that rub together when she walks. I just knew I wasn’t one of the lucky ones.”  – Skinny by Donna Cooner


Ever Davies weighs 302 pounds and she has a voice inside her head that she calls Skinny that likes to torment her.  You know how something is happening in the real world and inside your mind you are thinking something else?  That is what happens to Ever.  But in Ever’s case, the voice of Skinny has become so real that she has taken over Ever’s life.  Here are just a few of the encouraging words that Skinny whispers in Ever’s head:

“He feels sorry for you. He thinks you’re pitiful.” (p. 48)
“Are you crazy? There aren’t parts like that for fat girls like you.” (p. 49)
“You will die.” (p. 49)
Trying to take control of her life, Ever decided to have weight loss surgery.  The story that follows is the tale of her transformation and how she slowly sheds the pounds and finally stands up to the voice of Skinny in her head.  And yes, there is a lot of Cinderella subtext involved in the story.
There is, in fact, even a stepsister named Briella who at first appears wicked, but because our characters here have nuance they are not always what they seem.  In fact, Briella is in herself a fascinating and eventually sympathetic character that you come to care about almost as much as Ever.  Sometimes people surprise you.
But the best part of Skinny is hands down the best friend known at Rat.  Think Duckie from Pretty in Pink.  Rat is such a good hearted, dedicated best friend that he spends a great deal of his time making sure that Ever exercises, watches what she eats, etc.  In fact, he is a large part of her success.  Rat is the best friend that every girl wishes she had.  And just like our hero Duckie, Rat also has an unnoticed crush on Ever.  This time, however, maybe the right boy will get the girl.  (Yes, I’m still mad about the ending to Pretty in Pink.)  Rat is, however, an awesome character with tons of quirk and charm to carry off being the real heart of Skinny.
In Cinderella, there is a transformation that takes place.  Here Ever finds herself as the “project” of some of the more popular kids in school; but are the really her friends?  This is just one of the many difficulties that Ever must wrestle with because changing who you are on the outside sometimes means you have to change who you are on the inside, too.  But the important question is: Who are you going to choose to be at the end?

Ever herself is an interesting character; full of self-loathing at times she definitely stands in her own way.  There is a scene towards the end of the book that is both cheesy and awkward where Ever finally stands up to “Skinny”.  It needs to take place, of course, for Ever to move forward, but it has both a literalism and a dream sequence feel to it that makes it almost seem out of place in the context of the rest of the story.  It is, however, interesting to learn how much of Ever’s issues – and her perception of her relationship with others – was misunderstood and brought about by Ever herself as opposed to coming from those around her.  In the end, Ever learns that she was so wrapped up in herself, and Skinny, that she had closed herself off to the feelings of those around her.

In Butter (by Erin Jade Lange), the parents have withdrawn and are having difficulties dealing with their child’s obesity.  It is not talked about and there is some indication that the parents are complicit in both the emotion and the “feeding” of Butter’s weight issues.  In Skinny, it is indicated that Ever’s overeating is an emotional response to the death of her mother and the father takes a much more supportive, hands on approach to helping his daughter.  Even though he himself is concerned about surgery, he goes with Ever to the appointments and supports her decision.  I thought that both books did a good job of discussing the emotions involved in obesity and body image in their own unique ways.

Overall, Skinny is a really good look at what it is like to wrestle with weight and self identity issues.  Although it is clearly wrapped up in the package of Cinderella, the story takes a relevant twist and provides some rich characterization to make it modern and effective.  I work with a woman who has had weight loss surgery and here is where Cooner really excels: she discusses a lot of the technicalities of the surgery – such as the problems with eating and how you can’t eat and drink at the same time – clearly and correctly.  This is not surprising because Cooner’s biography says that she herself had gastric-bypass surgery.  As more and more teens are opting to have weight-loss surgery, I think this is an important book to add to our collections.  There is some good discussion about the pros, cons, difficulties and fears associatied with weight loss surgery, although in this case she obvioulsy opts to have the surgery and it proves to be the right choice for her.  4 out of 5 stars.
I happen to have an extra ARC so leave a comment by Friday, September 15th and you’ll be entered to win one. Be sure to leave an e-mail or a Twitter @ so that I can contact you if you win.