A little over two years ago, I was awed by Diana Spechler’s debut novel Who By Fire (linked to my review). Taken aback by her ability to craft three distinct narrative voices in one book, I marveled at her storytelling talent. With the release of her second novel Skinny, Spechler has once again proven her ability to create complex and highly believable characters immersed in extraordinary situations.

When Gray Lachmann’s father suddenly dies, the firm grip she thought she had on her life unexpectedly loosens as well. On the surface, she appears to be simply grieving, but Gray soon realizes that her newfound bingeing symbolizes more than just a physical hunger, yet she feels utterly helpless in its wake. A series of events leads Gray to discover a long-hidden secret of her father’s, and she perceives an opportunity to right a wrong, hoping that her own hunger can finally be satiated in the process.

This quest brings Gray to a youth “fat camp” as a counselor, and she hopes to physically benefit from the summer program, too. In this setting, clearly dysfunctional from the beginning, Gray is surrounded by a cast of characters, each carrying his or her own unique burdens along with excess weight, from an uncredentialed and obviously unqualified camp leader to a group of adolescent residents in constant turmoil.

What amazed me above all else was the voice of Gray herself. Spechler’s narrative deftly captures the internal dialogue of a woman struggling with her weight, and with this topic, I can most definitely relate. Beyond the simplistic bemoaning of the ridiculous standards women hold themselves, Spechler delves much deeper into the emotional effects of body image on one’s psyche, and in this way, the novel resonated with me even though my own experiences differ from the fictional piece.

Like Spechler’s first novel, there’s a darkness that hangs over this entire book, and it’s not all tidily pulled together in the end, which I happen to like since it’s much more realistic than the alternative. Her characters are again multi-layered- conflicted, flawed, but honest (at least in narrative form, if not always to each other). Her writing is tight; she doesn’t waste time with unnecessary fluff, instead rushing forward with compact storytelling that goes beyond simple stereotypes and familiar characterizations. I highly recommend Skinny, confident that it will resonate with others as it has for me.

Dawn tries to avoid talking about weight, since she’s still a size 8 in her imagination. She tries to paint a more accurate picture of life on her blog, my thoughts exactly.

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