Seventeen year old Adele, known better as Dell, knows pain. Her father is a deadbeat dad who walked out on her pregnant mother and owes a ton of back child support and her mother is a devastated shell of the woman she once was who now depends on the comfort of prescription drugs to get by. Dell has dealt with her parent’s divorce and the stress of life by eating. Food brings her comfort and now she’s overweight and unhappy, hiding behind self-deprecating jokes. When Dell is sexually assaulted by her longtime crush she knows nobody will believe her. Who would believe that most popular boy at school would sleep with fat, boyish Dell? She can’t even tell her best friend, who has been slowly slipping away to be part of a more popular crowd at school. Feeling lost and alone in a cruel world, Dell goes to extreme measures to stop the pain.
Wow. I’m not really sure to start with this book. After turning the final page I’m shocked and blown away by the intensity of the narrative. I guess I’ll start with the beginning. I didn’t love Dell from the beginning of the novel. I haven’t had a lot of luck with young adult novels with overweight protagonists. (See my review of The Earth, My Butt, and Other Round Things here). I usually find that they are unrealistically portrayed and not very well rounded. At first I found Dell’s obsession with her weight over the top and her attempts at smoothing things over with her peers through self-deprecating humor off-putting, but as the novel unfolded I found much more depth to her character. What seemed at first to be simply another overweight teen moaning about her weight quickly became a deeply unhappy girl using food to cope with much larger issues in her life. Much like her absentee father and drug-addicted mother, food is Dell’s enemy and her addiction plays an important role in her coping with the world around her.
I was deeply disappointed in the lack of depth in Dell’s relationship with her only good friend, Cara. It’s not that the relation ship was poorly written, it’s just m,y disappointment with how little Dell lets her true feelings show. She feels as though she has to hide from everybody and can;t even have a deep, caring relationship with a best friend. Not that Cara is all that nice to her anyway. She seems much too eager to ditch Dell in favor of the more popular crowd. I wanted so badly for Dell to have someone to confide in after the events at the party and could’ve smacked Cara for assuming the worst behavior on Dell’s part.
Speaking of the party, Dell’s experience of being raped by a boy she has had a crush on is devastating. Here we have a girl so insecure that she acts like a sumo wrestler and moos on command for this boy, and now he’s done the unthinkable. Dell feels as though she can’t tell anyone what has happened, because really, who would believe her? I was heartbroken for Dell. Despite being difficult to read, I’m glad that the author didn’t gloss over the event. She’s brutally honest in her depiction and because of that we are able to feel Dell’s pain and confusion.
By the end of this novel Dell has reached her breaking point and can’t take the pain and the rejection any longer. Although it was Dell that was raped at the party, the kids at school have begun to spread rumors that it was she that raped Brandon at the party. Dell’s life has come tumbling down around her and she sees no escape. Being in a house filled with prescription drugs leads Dell to the idea that killing herself is the answer to all of her problems and she takes that plan all the way to fruition. The novel ends with Dell mid-sentence after swallowing a bottle of pills. To say that I’m devastated by this ending is an understatement. As someone who has lost a loved one to suicide I’m particularly sensitive to the subject and had a very difficult time processing the emotions that came with reading someone’s last thoughts, fictional as they may have been.
Despite my emotional gut reaction to the way the book ended, I think it tackles important subjects in a thoughtful manner. Seeing the way that bullying and sexual assault can turn out is a valuable lesson and the book does an excellent job of showing the downfalls of both. I do fear that teens might read this book and feel that suicide is a valid option for ending pain, but it is my hope that the devastation of that last scene is enough to dissuade that type of thinking. Read this book carefully and with caution. It is both deeply moving and terribly difficult to read.