I came late to the party for Jenny Han’s To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before series. I just finished reading all three books for the first time, unlike those who’ve been following along since the titular book debuted in 2014. P.S. I Love You came a year later, and the final book — Always and Forever, Lara Jean — just this Spring. And I can’t say I’m mad about it, because the waiting would have been torture. (Note: Simon and Schuster Canada sent me the series to review.)
The last time I looked at my teenage diaries — years ago during one of our half-hearted attempts to clean the basement — I was struck by how many times I’d written I feel fat. I’ve always tried to hide my low self esteem and crappy body image (true whether I was “average” or severely underweight) but there it was spelled out over and over in black and white. Despite years of therapy, it’s still true today: most days I look in the mirror and I hate what I see. I’m ashamed that I’m not thinner. Ashamed that I’m not happier. Ashamed that I’m not the social butterfly I always feel I should be. (As if being introverted is somehow less than.) All of which made Mona Awad’s 13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl difficult to read, because I saw myself in it more than I thought I would. It’s the story of Lizzie (later Beth, Elizabeth, then Liz), a fat girl who’s never liked the way she looks. In 13 short stories we see her in various stages of her life, from her teen years growing up in Mississauga (aka Misery Saga) with her unsettlingly promiscuous friend Mel, to her early working and dating years (“Archibald doesn’t take me to dinner, but at least I can be naked with him”), her married life as an anorexic and her (slightly) later years heavy again.
It’s winter 1933. A woman in fine clothes arrives in a small town on the French shore of Nova Scotia driving an elegant car, with nothing else but a suitcase and a trunk to call her own. Maybe she’ll stay. “They might never have seen it in the newspaper,” a friend had told her. “Or if they did, it’ll be long forgotten.”