Hey pals, it’s been a while. I didn’t think that I could write this review (it took me a good 3 hours to put together) but I’m glad I did, and that it felt right to do it. I’m still a little hesitant to say something like, “I’m back, here to blog again!” because these past few months have been really rough and meeting deadlines and achieving goals has seemed much harder than it used to be. I’m doing what I can, though, and I’m glad that I’ve had so many great books keeping me company. Here’s a recent favorite for y’all, and thanks as always for sticking around.
Title: Nice Girls Endure by Chris Struyk-Bonn
Release date: August 1st, 2016
Genre: Young Adult – Realistic Fiction, Contemporary
Verdict: ☆☆☆☆ 1/2
Chelsea Duvay is so many things. She’s an avid musical lover, she’s a gifted singer, and she has the most perfect, beautiful feet. But no one ever notices that. All they notice is Chelsea’s weight.
Daily, Chelsea endures endless comments about her appearance from well-meaning adults and cruel classmates. So she keeps to herself and just tries to make it through. Don’t make waves. Don’t draw attention. That’s how life is for Chelsea until a special class project pushes the energetic and incessantly social Melody into Chelsea’s world.
As their unlikely friendship grows, Chelsea emerges from her isolated existence, and she begins to find the confidence to enjoy life. But bullies are bullies, and they remain as vicious as ever. One terrible encounter threatens to destroy everything Chelsea has worked so hard to achieve. Readers will be captivated by Chelsea s journey as she discovers the courage to declare her own beauty and self-worth, no matter what others might think. A must-read for anyone who loves to explore the personal but powerful territory of everyday life.
I was afraid to read this book when I first got wind of it. Most of the stories I’ve read with fat main characters have been single issue stories, and are typically doused in either wish fulfillment fantasies or horrible (and extremely triggering) descriptions of eating disorders and abuse. I understand that those are stories that need to be told, but seeing a positive representation of a fat protagonist shouldn’t be like looking for a diamond in the rough. I’m glad that this book exists at the very least to provide some kind of happy ending, albeit an open-ended one, and a narrative that is gentle and understanding as well as raw and truthful. Chelsea is a bright star of individuality that breathes music and soul into what could have easily been another shudder down my spine, and for that I am grateful. This may not be The Book to End All Fatphobia in YA Literature, but hey, it’s been a long time coming anyway.
Chelsea’s story at it’s core is about navigating the different beliefs of what it means to be fat. In her eyes, being fat is just a state of being, like being a redhead or being hard of hearing. It’s a part of her self-identity, but not the defining aspect of who she is. In her mother’s eyes, being fat is unhealthy: she consistently tries to micromanage Chelsea’s food intake and exercise habits in order for Chelsea to lose weight so she’ll “have some self-respect,” and it’s not until Chelsea confronts her about this misguided belief that Chelsea’s mom realizes her daughter doesn’t need to be skinny to be a person worth respecting. This belief is resonated at school, at the doctor’s office, in the weight-loss group her mother signed her up for, even in the mouths of the 6-year-old daughters of her neighbor in one cruel and unkind child’s song. The constant microaggressions geared towards her weight are a central part of the narrative, but instead of defining her story, they shape what she gives back to society in the form of art.
The real climax of the story comes from her art project: a 4-minute long video of all those microaggressions she’s filmed over the semester offset by the things that truly illustrate who she is, from her beautiful feet to the strength of her voice, in a moving tribute to self-love and courage in the face of true fear. I’d like to add a trigger warning for sexual assault in this book because Chelsea is assaulted early on in the book, when a classmate corners her to tear open her tunic and take pictures of her breasts that circulate throughout the school. It’s graphic and upsetting and when she later on uses an audio clip of her assaulter threatening her in her video portrait, it is both vulnerable and powerful and extremely raw. The fact she shows the video to her family is another huge unveiling of her life story that shows a different side than what they’ve bothered to look at. And they love it.
The only thing that really kept this book from being 5 stars for me was the tone. For a character who regularly bursts out in song (and is damn good at singing, too), I wanted Chelsea to be more expressive and not as subdued as she so often felt. Being shy is one thing, and having social anxiety is not something I think lightly of, but I believe Struyk-Bonn could have exemplified the level of passion Chelsea has for music or even for her feet more than she did without diminishing those aspects of Chelsea’s personality and self-identity. That passion ended up falling flat more often than not, although I will admit that the subtler patterns of writing worked finely enough to define her character in an engaging and wholly real way.
I’d also like to mention how validating Melody was for me as well. I recently got diagnosed with ADHD, and dealing with that on top of everything else has felt like way too much to bear lately, so having a female character with well-represented ADHD and actually taking the time to flesh her out was totally killer. I loved it and I love her and I’m glad that she had such a positive role in this book too.
Struyk-Bonn’s story overall is gripping and uplifting, striking a chord with readers who have had to push past the judgement of others to embrace their own version of self-respect and self-love, for themselves and for no one else. I’m relieved and happy to say that Nice Girls Endure more than delivers on this charge, and ends with the breathtaking sigh of the last notes in a song. *cue theater applause*
Since musicals are such a big part of this book, instead of asking the regular “have you read this,” I’d like to know what your favorite musicals are. Mine is Les Miserables, just like Chelsea — tell me yours in the comments below!