Massive by Julia Bell || [spoiler-free] Review

7/20/2017

Food. It keeps us alive. We find comfort in it. It brings people together. Heck, some of our days are revolved around it. We use sugary treats to celebrate or to congratulate someone. It's a happy thing. We all love food. Right?

Like most girls her age, teen Carmen's mentality is build around what she looks like and the craving for Big Mac's. Looks define people, at least that's what her mother leads her to believe. Thin is beautiful and anything else isn't. Simple. So when Carmen's mother packs both their bags and takes the young girl away from the only father figure she's known, her single friend, and in retrospect, the only people in her life who normalises food, the young girl's life takes a spiralling path downward. Returning to her mother's hometown of Birmingham, Carmen's daily life becomes revolved around restriction, bullying, and listening to her frail mother tell her how much happier they'd both be if they lost a few more pounds. That is when she's not telling her daughter that life would've been better without her.


I'd never heard of this book which is surprising given the topic and my online circles. I just happened to stumble upon Massive in my local charity shop. Hows that for fate?  Surprisingly, this was my first time reading a fictionalised novel covering the topic of an ED, written from the POV of the sufferer. Straight off the bat, I liked this book. Grim topic and all. I found it comforting in a sense, but more on that later. My biggest worry going into this book, and well, my biggest assumption was that the author, Julia Bell, was going to try and make ED's seem poetic and hauntingly beautiful like most of Tumblr does. I worried that it was going to glorify the illness in some way, or make it appear as though the main character just wanted attention. After all, I think we can all agree that topics regarding mental or physical health shouldn't be held with such irresponsibility *side-eyes 13 Reasons Why* Nothing is beautiful about hating yourself with such intensity that you put your health and well-being in jeopardy. Nothing is glorifying about being bent over a toilet and throwing up the contents of your stomach. Thankfully the author did the illness some justice and never set out to make something seem poetic or "quotable". It just was what it was.

Documenting the mind of someone with an eating disorder is never going to be simple. Speaking from experience, when your mind is in such a place, no thoughts truly make sense. It's just a muddle of air, sadness, hatred, and obsession. So if you pick up Massive, you have to be prepared to dislike most of the characters. Notably Maria (the mother) and Carmen, yeah, the two characters that the story revolves around. But to go alongside that dislike, you understand them in some twisted way. Carmen isn't written as a character you feel deeply for, nor is she one written for you to hate. She's simply a realistic portrayal of a teenage girl going through a lot of crap. Teenagers are cruel and when put together with her single role-model, you can understand why she is the way she is. But you have to be willing to explore all layers of her. You can't read this book and not put your own thoughts and understanding into it, it won't work like that. Massive deserves your time and heart.

When it comes to the important matter of "Does this book do the ED awareness community justice by opening up the eyes of a reader who hasn't had any dealings with the disorders? Will it help them understand, or does it just make us all look a little crazy and obsessive?" It's a hard one to answer. On one hand, it's refreshing to read a book on the subject that isn't full of magical cures or, let's face it, a man changing the mind of a woman who doesn't see herself properly. This story is gritty and makes you wince with discomfort or anger numerous times, which is what you want when reading about something this serious. But I'll admit that it is problematic in the sense of the mother. She is what some would class as "the worst case scenario" for a sufferer and I don't entirely see why they made her so horrid toward Carmen regarding the regret she felt for having the girl. I could see that the lack of control in her life when she gave birth was substituted with the control she had over food, but maybe it could've been written better. I don't know.

One big thing I will put out there, if you have or are on a path to recovery with an ED, maybe don't pick this up until you feel strong enough. It isn't triggering per say, but I became overly cautious of what I was eating after reading a few chapters. I felt guilt for eating more than the characters in the book (idiotic, I know. But that's just how my mind works sometimes.), and it put me somewhat back into that mental space. Read with caution. Be prepared to put the book down.


One thing with Massive that I both like and dislike, is that it has so many layers. You find yourself coming to a realisation days after finishing the last page. It's all connected but you have to choose to see the irony or rather, connections, of some aspects of the story - domino affect and all that. I want to study it with a sharpie and post-its. Maybe I will one day. Speaking of studying, I read online that this has been pushed toward the high school demographic before and to that I think, what the hell? I've only ever been one teenage girl, so I can only speak for my past self, but.. this book would've given me tips and tricks. I would not of finished Massive feeling grateful for my lumps or bumps nor would it of helped me get a better understanding of bullies. You have to be in the right head space before you pick this up, I will say it over and over. It isn't something to be taken lightly. I would never suggest that my daughter read this, despite it's YA tag. This is for people who need someone to understand them or want to understand someone with a similar illness, or for those of us who appreciate reading about the various forms of ED's and the people they consume - whether that be in fiction or reality. This isn't for young girls who can easily be influenced by the words they consume.

All in all, I appreciate this book for what it is and that may be hugely down to the gratitude I felt when I got near the midway point and realised that it wasn't trying to mask itself as beautiful. If you're up for this journey of think that you could better yourself/your understanding by delving into some aspects of an ED, then pick this one up. Tweet me about it. This is a novel that ought to be spoken about with one another.

Do you have any book suggestions hcovering similar topics? Let me know!

- Anne x

PS: To Buy Massive click HERE.

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