Elena Vanishing by Elena Dunkle and Clare B Dunkle
|Elena Vanishing by Elena Dunkle and Clare B Dunkle|
|Reviewer: Zoe Morris|
|Summary: A harrowing first person account of an eating disorder, this book is an outstanding read|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 288||Date: May 2015|
|Publisher: Chronicle Books|
|External links: Author's website|
There’s a voice in Elena’s head, and it’s harsh. You’re a failure, it says. You’re a fat flabby mess. And she agrees, she is both of those things.
Elena Vanishing is a remarkable book, a memoir of a battle with Anorexia that achieves something no work of fiction on the same subject ever could. From the very first page, this isn’t a made up story of a girl’s struggle to eat properly, but a harrowing first person account of fighting the disease, getting a little better, relapsing, recovering and a constant cycle of being hounded about her diet by those who, on paper, are supposed to be her biggest champions – family, friends and colleagues.
We meet Elena as an overachieving student in Germany where her military family are living. When she becomes seriously and obviously ill, though, she is sent back to the USA which is where most of her story takes place. Elena’s story is not a simple one and in addition to her food obsessions we learn about issues with her family life, with boyfriends, with her college degree and with her chosen future career. Elena is more than just a girl with a mental illness, and this comes across clearly. While others may use that to define her, she has more strings to her bow, both good and bad, as she’s telling her own story her, she makes sure to get those across.
I work in mental health, and know all the figures for the NHS on length of stay for eating disorder units, readmissions, recovery, what life is like inside, but the one thing this book wasn’t about was figures. At no point do we learn how much Elena weighs, how much she has lost, the inches of her thighs or the calories she has eaten that day. At first this made it hard to imagine her as the author photo shows a healthier looking girl some years on from the story, but in no time at all her own words bring her to life on the pages. The lack of availability of figures mirrors her own frustration with the same during her inpatient stays, during which her number is a source of constant obsession and speculation. While a lot of the book is set when she’s studying at college, not under ongoing treatment and surely able to weigh herself on a daily if not twice daily basis, the figures still do not come out, which I wonder if may be a deliberate attempt to deny readers comparisons or benchmarks against which to measure themselves, especially those who have similar issues with food.
I was incredibly invested in this book. I wanted, even needed, to know what was going to happen next, and while predicting the obvious outcome (she survived long enough to write this book, future after that unknown) there were so many different routes that could have got her there from where the book starts. It is such a good read that if I wasn’t making my way through the chapters, I was telling my colleagues about where she was up to or working out when I’d next be able to sneak a few pages.
I want to read this book again, but I’ll give it a few months to settle first. I’ve done a lot of reflecting since I closed the cover for the last time, and I just love that about a book, when it keeps you thinking for ages after the story ends. This is a highly recommended read, and I’d like to thank the publishers for sending us a copy.
How to Disappear Completely: on modern anorexia by Kelsey Osgood is in the Bookbag archives and also scores highly, so take a look.
You can read more book reviews or buy Elena Vanishing by Elena Dunkle and Clare B Dunkle at Amazon.co.uk
You can read more book reviews or buy Elena Vanishing by Elena Dunkle and Clare B Dunkle at Amazon.com.
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