Title: Room Empty
It's central premise involves anorexia and addiction, and it basically just gets heavier from there.
I know there's sort of a grey area between addiction and mental health problems.
I didn't know before reading this book, but anorexia nervosa is often treated as an addiction.
I will be talking about addiction and anorexia within the parameters of both addiction as a whole, and mental health.
These are complex issues with a lot of crossover areas, and I will do my best to walk the line, but let me know if I slip up and say something stupid and/or out of line!
If you have a different take on these issues, I'd love to see something you've written on this!
Anorexic teen Dani has checked herself into rehab in an attempt to save her life. This is her last chance, and she knows it.
Fletcher, an addict at the rehab centre, is assigned to Dani as her 'Recovery Buddy,' but soon their relationship begins to change.
And, more than that, what's ahead for Dani and Fletcher? They're trying to save each other... but will they be able to save themselves?
This is a complex book about complex people with complex mental health issues! That very fact is awesome!
Here are my main points about the mental health representation in this book:
- The love-cures-mental-health problems trope is avoided and subverted. Dani and Fletcher's relationship is complex - it causes problems as much as solving them.
- The depiction of mental health problems is realistic but still hopeful; there is hope here - and that's fab.
- It discusses issues such as Thinspo and 'making friends with Ana' (Ana-rexia) - a seriously worrying online habit. Technically, Tumblr has banned Thinspo and pro-Ana blogs, but there are a lot of them still up and working - and on other platforms.
- The characters are real, honest-to-God, people with hopes, dreams, pasts, and flaws. They aren't stereotypes!
I personally loved the unusual extended metaphors, like visualising anorexia as an alien; but I can also see it confusing some people.
Another thing I have to mention is the train-of-thought prose. I could so relate. When you're struggling with mental health problems, your thoughts spiral - often in completely unexpected ways.
So Dani tries to switch mental topics - and drifts back to what she was worried about in the next sentence.
That running together of topics was something I've had experience of time and time again, and I was really pleased to see it here.
- recurrence of traumatic scenes in a way which mimics flashbacks or hallucinations
- While that may or may not be true, she is there for her recovery, and they are both Tony's responsibility, not each other's.
- Tony's unprofessionalism is never addressed.
- The fact that Fletcher is not Dani's responsibility, whether or not they are Recovery Buddies, is never addressed.
There was also an undercurrent of 'you have to want to get better' which... is just unhelpful. Just - the stigma, guys. The stigma.
I get that if you don't want to get better, then it's not likely to happen, but given the struggle that people with mental health problems etc. have to be treated respectfully... I just don't think it's ok.
This is a complex, readable, and absorbing book, with mental health at its heart.
It's not flawless by any means - but what is?
UPDATE 11th May: To see a review written by someone who has had anorexia, read Stacey Taylor's review on Goodreads. She gives the book 3/5 stars, and a middling review.