Sunday, July 09, 2006

Massive by Juia Bell

Back from a trip to Vancouver where I went to watch a track meet. Yes, I am a closet, or not so closet track fan. Of course it helps that two of my daughters are track athletes, but even if they weren’t I’d love it. I always watch the Worlds, Commonwealth Games, and definitely the Olympic. I try and make locally held meets, and am a timing official for the local high school meets.

The ferry trip over to Vancouver is about an hour and a half and aside from being famous for scenery and orcas sightings, it is perfect for reading. I almost always get a book read between the trip over and back. So, on this trip, I managed to read Massive by Julia Bell. It’s one I’ve had around for a while having been published first in 2002 by Young Picador of London. This edition was published in 2003. The stark black cover with a set of weigh scales on the front is practically enough to scare anyone with weight issues off, so I had been holding off reading this one as I had the uneasy feeling that it was very much an “issue book.” But, I was much mistaken, and should have read it sooner. In fact, I suspect that Julia Bell will be one of those writers whose next book I will automatically pick up no matter what the topic.

Massive might at first appear to be a book about eating disorders, a topic that seems to be all the rage in the media, hence my hesitancy as I really don’t like issue books. What I adore, and always will, is a good story well told. I was pleasantly surprised to find that that’s exactly what Massive is. Carmen is a relatively normal fourteen year old kid, living with her mum and step-dad in a small community. Candy bars and Playstation are Carmen’s distractions when her best friend is too busy with a new boyfriend to hang out. Meanwhile, Carmen’s mum, Maria, is recovering from an unnamed illness. It doesn’t take the reader long to figure out that her mother’s problem is an obsession with being thin. Before long, her mother has left her husband and moved them to the city where Maria grew up. Carmen’s grandmother has her own food issues, and Carmen finds herself bouncing between two extremes. Kids at her new school reinforce the ‘thin is in’ ‘fat is failure’ message. Carmen’s Aunt Lisa and her mother’s childhood friend Billy are quasi guardian angels, and it is no surprise that she turns to them when things get desperate.

Don’t expect pat endings from Bell. The characters are as real and troubling as they might be in real life. While the reader is hopeful that Carmen will recover, this is by no means certain, and Maria’s recovery is even more doubtful. Bell does offer hope in the form of Carmen’s Aunt Lisa, and in the Barbie Barbeque that closes the story. This scene alone is worth the price of the book. Watch out for her second novel, Dirty Work to be released in January o7. I know I'll be reading it when it comes out.

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