Tuesday 25 April 2017

Review Time! - Room Empty by Sarah Mussi

(Warning: This post discusses anorexia, addiction, suicide, abuse, and a whole heap of other heavy topics.)

a) Room Empty title image

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Title: Room Empty

Author: Sarah Mussi

Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary, Romance* (M/F,) Crime* (*ish)

Amazon: UK - USA

A few starting notes:

I received a free digital review copy of this book via the publishers, Rock the Boat, as an opportunity to provide a fair and honest review.

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OK, before we start - this book has A LOT of potentially distressing content.

It's central premise involves anorexia and addiction, and it basically just gets heavier from there.

Be careful. You know what you can deal with at any given moment; no-one else.

On a related note, if anyone with first-hand experience of anorexia or addiction has reviewed this book, please let me know, I would love to link to your review.

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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.

But what's the significance of the empty room? Dani thinks it's the root of her problems, but what happened there?

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?

Best bits:

This is a complex book about complex people with complex mental health issues! That very fact is awesome!

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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!

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The chapters of this book are short and readable, which is a big plus since the subject matter is so heavy - the short chapters mean more room for breathers!

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.

Not so great bits:

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OK, as I mentioned earlier, there's a lot going on in this book, so be aware of these things:

- anorexia

- physical effects of anorexia

- substance addiction

- alcoholism

- suicide

- the physical results of suicide (i.e. finding the body) (potentially VERY distressing; from the beginning. Please be warned this doesn't spare the realities.)

- the after-effects of suicide on those who knew the person

- child abuse

- child neglect

- implied sexual abuse/assault

- grief

- parental addiction

- parental death

- homelessness

- low self-esteem/self-worth

- co-dependency

- reliving trauma

- abduction

- being kept prisoner

- starvation

- details of dead bodies

- unsupportive friends

- gaslighting

- abuse/neglect within foster care

- recurrence of traumatic scenes in a way which mimics flashbacks or hallucinations

corner image- Thinspo and Ana

There's also swearing.

These are heavy topics guys - I took a lot of breaks reading this book - so take care of yourselves!

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Just a couple of issues with things that happened/the way things are portrayed in this book:

One of the support workers - Tony - at one point pretty much accuses Dani of harming Fletcher's recovery.

  • 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's a definite link in this book between addiction and/or anorexia, and childhood trauma.

The impression this sometimes gave was that these issues are always
related to childhood trauma; while this can sometimes be the case, it's definitely not an in-all-cases thing.

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.

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  1. Wow this looks like a really raw book. I've read very heavy books with a lot of heavy topics like these before, but they've been more on the YA realm so I feel as if they're less heavy in a way. This might be a bit too upsetting for me but great review nonetheless!

    1. This is YA, and it's certainly written in an accessible way - but it's also incredibly raw, and I'm certainly not gonna deny that it's hard-hitting! It doesn't skim over the harshness of reality just because it's YA, y'know? So yeah, it's a great book, but approach with caution!

    2. Ah ok! I thought it was adult fiction for a moment. I like when YA deals with harsh issues but makes it a bit easier to read. I feel like adult fiction sometimes hits me too hard.

    3. Ha, yeah - it's *raw* YA, but it's YA! XD

  2. I have only read a few books which include anorexia in them, and usually they aren't the focus in the novels that I read (although as they are a pressing issue, they feature a lot in the books.) It would be different to read one where it is the center of the story. I also like the sound of the love-cures-all issue being overruled because that bothers me so much in books because it is so wrong!

    1. Yes! This really explores the struggles of falling in love when you have these problems - and that expecting the other person to save you isn't really healthy! :)

  3. loved this review Cee! Very thorough! The books covers indeed MANY topics but I'm very interested in at least 90% of them and since the characters are so real I'm going to have to read it now! Thanks!

  4. sorry I'm back to say I loved they way you warn people "e careful. You know what you can deal with at any given moment; no-one else." very thoughtful

  5. Replies
    1. My Goodreads is private for a variety of reasons - the main one being it's linked to my private Facebook. Sorry!

  6. I've just finished this and I wasn't really sure what to think about it. It was distressing to me and I'm fortunate enough to have not experienced any of it. It was certainly raw. I also liked the metaphor of the alien. I read another book with anorexia being a theme and a similar characterisation was made so it made me wonder if that's a common thing. Anyway, great review!

    1. Yeah, I definitely found it raw! I took a lot of breaks while reading due to all the heaviness.

      I thought it was a great book overall though :)


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