The story of a teen girl’s struggle with Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder and how love helps her on the road to recovery.
Sixteen-year-old Pea looks normal, but she has a secret: she has Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID). It is like having a monster inside of her, one that not only dictates what she can eat, but also causes anxiety, depression, and thoughts that she doesn’t want to have. When she falls crazy-mad in love with Ben, she hides her disorder from him, pretending that she’s fine. At first, everything really does feel like it’s getting better with him around, so she stops taking her anxiety and depression medication. And that’s when the monster really takes over her life. Just as everything seems lost and hopeless, Pea finds in her family, and in Ben, the support and strength she needs to learn that her eating disorder doesn’t have to control her.
Description taken from Goodreads.
There’s been a bit of controversy over Sad Perfect because of a review of the book posted by an anonymous eating disorder survivor who claims that the book is incredibly inaccurate and even harmful to those with eating disorders. I can’t speak to the truthfulness of this statement, but one person was very hurt by the book, so I most likely will not recommend it to people who have personal experience with that issue.
However, before I move on to the story itself, I want to note that Sad Perfect was the first time I’ve ever heard of ARFID or any eating disorder like it. By the end of the book, I knew one or two things about it and had a glimpse into the kind of damage it can do to someone’s everyday life. Prior to reading the book, I probably would’ve thought those two hated words (“picky eater”) if I encountered someone with ARFID, out of ignorance and misunderstanding. After reading the book, I had some window of empathy for people affected by this disorder. Because of that, I think Sad Perfect deserves more mercy than most ED bloggers are giving it credit for.
That’s not to say the book is perfect or that it should have a good rep. I don’t believe either of those things to be true.
I know what it’s like to personally care about an issue, see it completely misrepresented in text, and be both relieved and grateful that the book blogging community is rejecting it as the truth. Instances like those make me wonder if it’s worse to be unrepresented or to be misrepresented, and there’s no perfect answer to that, but I’d tentatively say that it’s worse to be unrepresented. At least with misrepresentation, there’s dialogue into the issue and an opportunity for others to step in. Maybe that’s how we have to view Sad Perfect.
That aside, what I can speak to is the writing, which is a whole other reason why I wouldn’t recommend this one. It’s written exclusively in second-person. There’s only one book I can think of that uses second-person the whole way through and actually succeeds, and it’s one of my favorites (Nancy Werlin’s The Rules of Survival). Everything else tends to become tiring pretty quickly, and Sad Perfect is no exception.
Actually, the reason why I continued reading after the experimental first five or six pages was the second person. I loved the way that Elliot’s sentences flowed and how her narrative was an outside-looking-in view to Pea’s life. Unfortunately, over time, this became my least favorite part of the book. The second-person went from being lyrical and innovative to being shallow and impersonal. If this were a short story, I could definitely see Elliot’s second-person skill coming in handy, but here, it wore me down and significantly slowed the pace of the story.
And as Pea’s life starts going down into the ditch while she develops an unhealthy fixation on her boyfriend (which is portrayed as being a positive thing), the narrative does increasingly less to improve the book. It could’ve been a great method to show the spiral that Pea was headed down and the terrible ways that her ARFID morphed into anxiety and depression, but it ended up not taking that opportunity. With nothing to provide clarity, the plot completely unraveled and felt all over the place.
Not to mention the supporting cast, Pea herself, and the boyfriend, all of which were half-baked at best. If I had to guess why the characters in this book are as screwy as they are, I’d say it has to do with that the entire book feels like it’s written by someone speculating about someone else. I understand that Elliot’s daughter lives with ARFID. What I’m saying is that you can watch a war happen, see grief, be there for every hospital visit, and still not a clue as to what those people are actually going through. And that’s just the eating disorder, not even considering teenage life. That’s where we get the situation with the “perfect” boyfriend, the terrible representation of Pea’s relationship with her parents, the equally bad portrayal of her life with her brother, the weird hatred of popular people, and everything else.
Overall, don’t go for it. There’s other great books out there about anxiety, fear, and eating disorders. I recommend starting off with Meg Haston’s Paperweight and Louise Gornall’s Under Rose-Tainted Skies. There’s potential here, and I appreciate what Elliot’s done to educate–at the very least–me, about this disorder, but the story isn’t there. 1.5 stars.