Beautiful Monster by Kate McCaffrey

Monday, May 10, 2010

This was definitely an issues novel – eating disorders and mental health being the issues – and though I haven’t read Kate McCaffrey’s previous novels, it seems as if they were issues-based too.

Tessa’s life changes when her little brother is killed in an awful accident – suddenly her mother isn’t her mother anymore, and Tessa increasingly feels pressured to be perfect, that she should have died instead of her brother. Tess decides that in order to be perfect, she has to lose weight – she starts starving herself, and when she has to eat, throwing it back up. Tess wants to be in control. Her close friend Ned supports her, is always there for her, and thinks she should lose weight too.

One issue I had with this novel was that I never really felt connected to Tess. The book was written in third-person, and I always felt as if I was outside of Tess’s head, unable to fully empathise with her because I didn’t really know her. I thought it was written wonderfully, and the way in which time was structured was brilliant. I think even though I felt a bit disconnected from Tess, the way she feels about herself and the things that she does are things that I think a lot of young women (and other people of course) will be able to understand, sadly.

I’ve found with a lot of novels about eating disorders, the character with the disorder is endlessly frustrating – people keep telling them they’re too thin, they have to get better – and yet they still insist that they’re fat and ugly. This is probably representative of a real person with an eating disorder – it affects them mentally and they have very distorted ideas of their own appearance. Tess and her fights with Ned were so frustrating and so sad – but I think they were necessary in the novel.

This isn’t the type of book you can say you enjoyed, because I didn’t really. I thought it was well-written and insightful, and I recommend it to people who enjoyed Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson and other novels about eating disorders. I think the pull of Beautiful Monster and books like it is not that they’re fun to read, but that they’re like a train wreck – you feel almost hypnotised by them, by the horror.

What do you think of novels about eating disorders?
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