Second Star to the Right by Deborah Hautzig

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Second Star to the Right by Deborah Hautzig

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Category: Teens
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Jill Murphy
Reviewed by Jill Murphy
Summary: A moving and intensely personal examination of anorexia. A first person narrative concentrates on the emotional state of its central character. It's beautifully, if distressingly, written, with great insight.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 176 Date: December 2008
Publisher: Walker
ISBN: 1406315494

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Leslie's life is pretty good. She's intelligent and achieves well. She goes to a great school. Her best friend, Cavett, is a real soul mate. Her parents are slightly bohemian and indulgent and they love her to pieces. What's not to like about Lesley's life? You don't know? Well, Leslie doesn't really know either. What she does know is that she feels a great sense of detachment and alienation. Whilst on the outside she's ticking all the boxes and nodding and smiling, on the inside she's not doing so well at all - plagued by negativity and unworthy thoughts that make her feel guilty.

Leslie's internal dictator is directing affairs. It's not a voice, though; it's a feeling. And it says that if Leslie could only be thin, everything would be okay.

Of course, it wouldn't be okay. And it isn't okay when Leslie gradually sinks into anorexia. A hundred and five pounds becomes a hundred pounds, and a hundred pounds becomes ninety-five. Her parents and friends begin to worry. Soon, Leslie is chewing food only to spit it out into a napkin. Soon, she can't get up without fainting. Soon, lunch is a packet of chewing gum.

Horrific as it is, I "get" anorexia, I do. I get it. If I am down or depressed, I do not eat well or much. I kinda like it when I lose weight even though I know that I am too thin as it is. I know it's stupid, but there's a sense of angry self-satisfaction about it. The awful, awful thing about it is that I know that's only the tiniest of tiny tastes of what it is like to be anorexic. It's a sight of this awful illness - but a sight far away on the horizon. Second Star to the Right brings that glimpse a lot closer in its first person narrative and it's just so very, very sad.

Leslie's emotional confusion has its roots in her relationship with her mother - whose cousin sacrificed herself to stay with own her mother during the Holocaust. Now Leslie's mother denies herself and spoils Leslie - treating her as a kind of cipher. Ultimately, though, anorexia is Leslie's own choice. And in this book we can begin to see how, for some, this disease makes perfect sense. It concentrates much more heavily on the emotional landscape Leslie is inhabiting and much less on the physical effects and therapy. By the end, you really are inhabiting her skin.

This is Deborah Hautzig's semi-fictional account of her own anorexia, first published almost thirty years ago and in a welcome reissue by Walker. It's as relevant now as it was then, and it's searingly honest. It's also utterly sympathetic.


My thanks to the nice people at Walker for sending the book.

Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson is another superb book tackling anorexia, while A Perfect Ten by Chris Higgins touches on the same subject. Willow by Julia Hoban talks about a different kind of self-harm, this time cutting, and its (mis)use as a coping mechanism for grief.

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Buy Second Star to the Right by Deborah Hautzig at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Second Star to the Right by Deborah Hautzig at


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