Review: Elena Vanishing by Elena and Clare B. Dunkle
This book was borrowed from the Yolo County Public Library, Davis branch.
(Description nicked from B&N.com.)
“Seventeen-year-old Elena is vanishing. Every day means renewed determination, so every day means fewer calories. This is the story of a girl whose armor against anxiety becomes artillery against herself as she battles on both sides of a lose-lose war in a struggle with anorexia. Told entirely from Elena’s perspective over a five-year period and cowritten with her mother, award-winning author Clare B. Dunkle, Elena’s memoir is a fascinating and intimate look at a deadly disease, and a must read for anyone who knows someone suffering from an eating disorder.”
I appreciate the opportunity to read books like this, because I always want to understand things that are unfamiliar to me. In this case, it’s the mindset of someone suffering from anorexia. When I was growing up, someone that I knew had problems with eating, and while I don’t think it was anorexia, it certainly took its toll. For me personally, as someone who deals with an anxiety disorder, I have times when my anxiety is so high that it makes it hard to eat, but again, it’s not anorexia. What drives someone to believe that starving themselves is a viable course of action?
Elena is completely forthcoming in this memoir about her struggles, not sugarcoating anything and definitely not hiding anything. In the afterward, she states that the memoirs that she read about anorexia usually tried to show the brightest side of it or to highlight the hope of recovery. Because of this, Elena decided to enlist the help of her mother, an established author and her staunch supporter through her sickness, to write this book.
I found this book to be incredibly hard to read. Elena’s viciously critical inner voice is as much a character as Elena herself, and the reader isn’t spared the cruel way every little action is judged in the harshest possible light. In some respects, it reminds me of the voice of my own anxiety telling me that everything will turn out bad, but in other ways, Elena’s thoughts are far beyond anything that I have gone through. For me, the worst of those parts of the tale were kind of triggering, but they also forced me to examine how well I deal with my own inner critic.
It was also hard to read because there are times that you just want to take Elena by the shoulders and tshake her. How can someone do this to themselves and their family? I’m willing to bet, though, that this is exactly what Elena wanted to convey–not only her own frustration, but that of those close to her. Be prepared going into reading this, because it’s not easy.
And that’s why I think it’s an important book to get into the hands of teens. For one thing, it will show them that they’re not alone in what they’re feeling and thinking. For another thing, it will make them aware of the horrible consequences of not seeking help if they themselves are going through it. Elena’s language is evocative and hard-hitting, and it spares you nothing. Kudos to Clare Dunkle for taking Elena’s story and helping her to transform it into a memoir of such power and pain.
While I won’t say that I enjoyed this book, I did deeply appreciate reading it. Elena Vanishing is a book that all teens should have access to.