Considering she makes it clear immediately that she doesn’t intend to live through her stay at the treatment facility, Stevie isn’t the sweetest of characters. As the story of her mother abandoning the family, a life-changing car accident, and a college girl named Eden unfolds through flashbacks and journal entries, it’s easy to see how she ended up bulimic with the intent of reaching anorexia and literally starving herself to death. Though not a common denominator in all ED cases, control and the desire to have it over something is often at the core of how people end up anorexic, bulimic, and otherwise ill.
With Paperweight being a standalone, it’s a real possibility Stevie will end up killing herself on her brother’s deathaversary the way she plans to, so you keep turning the pages to see if she survives and find out how she fell so far. The way she slowly changes without realizing and starts to make an effort at saving her own life is a sweet one and would offer hope to ED survivors who feel they can read
it without being triggered. Her therapist Anna is there every step of the way to offer the Right Words or do the Right Thing, as are her new roommates Ashley, Cate, and Teagan. It leaves a good impression of what therapy can do for young adults who are able to get to it, which is all too important to anyone suffering from mental illnesses of any kind.
What Left Me Wanting:
If you’re a reader turned off by the idea of Manic Pixie Dream Girls–quirky, often creative girls who are as opaque as can be and charm the main character with their strangeness; each of John Green’s novels has one and Zooey Deschanel is the patron saint of the trope–then Paperweight may not be the right book for you. Eden, Josh’s girlfriend and the girl Stevie occasionally makes out with, seems to appear in the siblings’ lives solely to charm them both, turn them against one another, and jumpstart the events of the book. We see her only in flashbacks and she gets no real characterization.
Stevie’s therapist Anna is similarly lacking in characterization. All of the cast aside from Stevie is made up of little more than sketches, but Anna’s one-note personality is especially noticeable because of her importance to Stevie’s recovery. She confesses to being a recovering alcoholic, but other than that, she’s practically an angel sent from Heaven itself to help Stevie recover from bulimia and do whatever she has to in order to make that happen. She has the potential to be more than Stevie’s personal savior, but she never reaches it. Editing in the novel was a little loose at times too; though dates and times form the chapter headings for each new chapter, Stevie says one chapter took place a day after the previous one, which had actually happened earlier that same day.
Paperweight is about recovery, not disease, and readers tired of watching characters fall down the hole of anorexia or bulimia will be happy about that. The full novel may be a mixed bag, but the power of a novel about healing instead of a novel about getting sick means a lot to readers who only see these disorders in terms of falling down the hole instead of crawling out of it. Certainly a memorable novel that may get its own space on the shelf next to Wintergirls as an iconic eating disorder-related novel.
*Stevie is beautifully characterized