It's a feeling of perpetual . . . nothing. 1
When novels, TV shows, or films feature characters with eating disorders, those characters tend to be female. In real life, at least one million men and boys are currently suffering from some kind of eating disorder. Approximately ten out of eleven people suffering from eating disorders are female - which means the other one is male. One out of every four people suffering from anorexia is a male; one out of every eight people suffering from bulimia is a male. 2
Nothing, a fictional story by Robin Friedman, is related in first-person narrative by two siblings, Parker and Danielle. While Parker shares his thoughts in straightforward prose, his younger sister Danielle uses verse.
On the outside, Parker seems to have everything going for him: he's wealthy, he's attractive, he's a track star, he's a journalist, he's active in his community, and he's a good student. However, Parker doesn't like everything that he's doing, and he doesn't like how he looks on the outside. He keeps his emotions locked up inside, where no one can see them. His father wants him to become "a nice Jewish doctor," but that's not Parker's dream. Although his parents have made him see a college consultant regularly since he was a freshman, he's still not sure what he wants to do after high school. When the pressure (from his overbearing father, from his coaches, from his friends, from himself) gets to be too much, he turns to food. After going on shopping sprees at the grocery store, he eats until he's uncomfortably full, then throws up.
Binging and purging takes a toll on both his body and his mind. He feels tired all of the time. He loses weight. He loses muscle. He loses strength. He stops hanging out with his friends. He argues with the girl he likes.
Danielle wishes she got a fraction of the attention Parker gets from their family and classmates. At first, she does not realize that that very attention has pushed Parker to hurt himself. Then, though Parker tries his best to hide what he's doing, Danielle begins to suspect something is wrong. She wonders if she should speak up, then wonders who will listen to her. As other matters at home complicate things, Danielle's narrative offers additional insight into Parker's character as well as their family life.
"Nothing's wrong. Why does everyone keep asking me that?" 3
It is completely possible for someone to be popular or well-liked and for that person to seem "okay" when he or she is really anything but. I have known Parkers, both female or male, as teens or as adults, who have eating disorders or other habits that shocked those who thought they knew them well.
The author was inspired to write this novel after learning that her friend - a grown man - had an eating disorder. Throughout Nothing, Friedman treats the subject matter gently and compassionately. This novel is well-researched and will appeal to both genders, thanks largely to the dual narrative. The book ends with an author's note which shares real-life statistics and encourages readers to contact organizations such as The National Eating Disorder Association for more information.
1 Quote from the book - Parker's POV
2 Quote from the author's note at the close of the book
3 Quote from the book - Parker's POV
It's okay to speak up. It's okay to reach out. It's okay to ask for help.
If you think someone you know has an eating disorder, you might be hesitant to bring it up, worried that the person will "hate" you. If you aren't comfortable talking directly to the person about it, confide to someone else that you trust, someone else that cares. If you are worried about your own eating habits, please tell someone who will look out for you, someone who can help you help yourself. If you or the person you're worried about is a kid or a teenager, talk to an adult that you trust, such as your parent, a teacher, or a counselor, or call the National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA) Toll-Free Information and Referral Helpline: (800) 931-2237
I say it time and time again: Sometimes, it's easier to read about something than talk about it. Check out my Tough Issues for Teens Booklist for more books about eating disorders and other topics which you may find difficult to discuss. Please read and reach out.
Learn more about National Eating Disorder Awareness Month, then extend that awareness beyond February.
Contact The National Eating Disorder Association
603 Stewart St.
Seattle, WA 98101
Business Office: (206) 382-3587
Toll-Free Helpline: (800) 931-2237
Read the first chapter of Nothing.
Note: I also posted about this book at GuysLitWire and SparkLife.
Interview: Robin Friedman (2007)
Interview: Robin Friedman (2010)
Book Review: The Girlfriend Project by Robin Friedman