Friday, 7 October 2016

Nothing Tastes as Good by Claire Hennessy

Nothing Tastes as Good by Claire Hennessy
Published September 2016 by Hot Key
Source: Allen & Unwin
Rating: 5 stars

From the blurb: Don’t call her a guardian angel. Annabel is dead – but she hasn’t completely gone away. Annabel immediately understands why her first assignment as a ghostly helper is to her old classmate: Julia is fat. And being fat makes you unhappy. Simple, right?As Annabel shadows Julia’s life in the pressured final year of school, Julia gradually lets Annabel’s voice in, guiding her thoughts towards her body, food and control.But nothing is as simple as it first seems. Spending time in Julia’s head seems to be having its own effect on Annabel . . . And she knows that once the voices take hold, it’s hard to ignore them. 

Set in Irleland, Claire Hennessy's new YA novel, Nothing Tastes as Good, revolves around two girls: Annabel McCormack and Julia Jacobs. Julia is in high school, she's the editor of the school newspaper, and she dreams of becoming a journalist. Annabel died three weeks ago, despite receiving treatment for long term anorexia. Annabel's discovered there's an afterlife in which she takes orders from someone she refers to as The Boss. Her job is to watch over Julia and help her out. Until she can help Julia she's unable to visit her family or enter their house.

Claire Hennessy took a risk when she created Annabel, the narrator of the story. She's got very strong opinions about bodies, fat, and food. These opinions are in complete opposition to the Body Positivity (BoPo) movement that is becoming more popular these days. Annabel equates fat with laziness, weakness, and failure. She's disgusted by food. She thinks eating means being out of control and shows a lack of discipline. But, the risk paid off because at first this attitude is overwhelming, it's so nasty and negative. Yet, it's believable. Annabel has been anorexic for some time, she's received different treatments, spent time in hospital. Ultimately nothing could save her because her thoughts and feelings were too strong.

There are layers to Julia's story that Annabel has to discover as she spends more and more time watching over her life. She can influence Julia's thoughts and actions. She thinks she's there to help Julia lose weight, to get control of her over eating. It's completely captivating and scary watching how easily a girl's thoughts can be turned against her. How she can go from reasonably happy to hating herself in a short amount of time.

Both characters were well developed. We get to learn more about Annabel's life via her memories, and we learn more about Julia as Annabel discovers her secrets. I felt for both girls equally, and I'm sure teenage readers will connect with them as well.

Nothing Tastes as Good is a powerful, heartbreaking story. It's an honest, realistic, and confronting look at eating disorders, societal pressure, and friendship. It's a book I'd recommend to both teens and adults.

Thank you to Allen & Unwin for my review copy. RRP A$19.99.

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