Release Date: July 7, 2015
Rating: 4 out of 5
Thigh gaps. Flat stomach. The perfect, skinny body. Speaking from a teenage girl’s perspective, I know what it’s like. In Paperweight by Meg Haston, the main character Stevie deals with those wishes in a harmful manner: bulimia. However, this desire for the perfect, skinny body doesn’t arise from the pressures of media like they usually do. For Stevie, her eating disorder stems from her family. Upon being abandoned by her mother, Stevie feels as if she is worthless and “takes up too much space”. From there, her life spirals into a dark abyss as she tries to make herself smaller, smaller, until she is nothing. Paperweight surprised me in how many desolate yet important topics Haston covers throughout the entire story. In the end though, I found myself feeling like I gained fresh eyes and a new outlook on eating disorders.
Paperweight is certainly no easy story to read. From the start, Stevie is cringing at every meal, every piece of food she sees and smells. Haston writes Stevie’s thoughts so genuinely that she had me convinced that food is revolting, that a perfectly delicious fried chicken is abominable. In doing this, Haston is able to fully place Stevie into a real person as someone who is suffering from an eating disorder. If anything, Paperweight acts as a heavy trigger. Not only is this topic difficult to read, but Stevie herself is not a likable character in the beginning. Stevie has been in a dark place ever since her mother left, but she also has to deal with how her brother died shortly after her mother left – yet another topic Haston chooses to include in Paperweight. Everything negative surrounds Stevie: her self-criticism, hate for food, her un-willingness to share her thoughts with her therapist, etc. However, over the course of the story, Stevie gradually opens up, and I did not exactly like her more as a character, but I certainly began to understand her motives and feelings.
I have to appreciate the lack of romance in this story. Unlike most YA novels, the protagonist meets a love interest who eventually pulls them out of their depression. However, in Paperweight, Haston realistically chooses to have Stevie’s therapist, Anna, pull her out. Stevie’s sessions with Anna are portrayed in a believable manner that is much more convincing than having, say, a boy save her from purging herself to death. Stevie also meets a handful of girls who are supportive in the way that make her realize that she doesn’t actually want to kill herself. There is one romance aspect that I think is particularly interesting as it plays a part in Stevie’s past, but not her present. It touches on the topic of homosexuality, but Stevie never explicitly admits that she is lesbian. This definitely plays into the part of Stevie being confused in a time where she was lost and sought comfort in any form.
Paperweight, by all means, is not for the light-hearted reader. It’s also not a story for someone who has considered eating disorders or suicide in the past. It’s for people who know others with eating disorders or would like to be more informed about them. Haston’s ability to represent a realistic teenage girl dealing with an eating disorder is powerful. I am thoroughly impressed with Haston’s YA debut; albeit it isn’t an easy read, but it certainly is a strong one.