In the vein of Laurie Halse Anderson's Wintergirls, this emotionally haunting and beautifully written young adult debut delves into the devastating impact of trauma and loss. Seventeen-year-old Stevie is trapped. In her life. In her body. And now in an eating-disorder treatment center on the dusty outskirts of the New Mexico desert. Life in the center is regimented and intrusive, a nightmare come true. Nurses and therapists watch Stevie at meal time, accompany her to the bathroom, and challenge her to eat the foods she's worked so hard to avoid. Her dad has signed her up for sixty days of treatment. But what no one knows is that Stevie doesn't plan to stay that long. There are only twenty-seven days until the anniversary of her brother Josh's death—the death she caused. And if Stevie gets her way, there are only twenty-seven days until she, too, will end her life. Paperweight follows Stevie's journey as she struggles not only with this life-threatening eating disorder, but with the question of whether she can ever find absolution for the mistakes of her past…and whether she truly deserves to.
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
If we traveled with the main character Stevie, she would be:
She would create stories and poems from the tip of her pen. Worlds would appear. Fantasy and thrillers. Stevie would be a well-known writer who also gives her support to the eating disorder community. She would visit retreats and help girls get through their disorder.
We would meet Stevie at a bar or club. She would be flat-out drunk, and we would take her to our hotel room to recuperate. She would thank us, and we would recognize her as a famous writer. We would invite her to join us, and she would come with us because she would want to see the world.
I have to admit that I didn't like Stevie at first. She was rude and caustic. She was rude to everyone else. They didn't deserve that. Not at all. There was no reason to be angry at the other girls. Or even Anna the Shrink. They are just trying to help.
As the story continued, she gained depth. We got her backstory and who she was. I felt a little sad for her. Her life wasn't peachy. It had its bumps. Namely Josh's death and her mother's absence. They were bricks weighing her down. And she blamed herself.
I saw that she was great with words. She could make something terrible seem oddly haunting and beautiful. She used her knowledge and talent with words to make this book have a romantic touch. Her being a writer was a nice touch.
We are all a collection of lost causes, stashed here so no one has to see just how wounded we are.
Location 1847 'Paperweight'
Stevie pushed herself down. She lowered her self-esteem. She saw herself in a terrible light. Personally, I think everyone is amazing. Those who put themselves down. The ones who were hurt. They are strong and brave. And Stevie was too.
At first, her sour attitude put me off, but I started to feel compassionate about her situation. I may never want to be her or have her condition, but I can, and will, help her and people like her to the best of my abilities.
My body is both weapon and wound, predator and prey. I will self-destruct without any help.
Location 829 'Paperweight'
The Adventure Begins (And Ends):
The plot wasn't the most interesting thing in the world. I had only a few questions that needed to be solved. Why did Stevie blame herself? How did Josh die? Who was Eden? What's her importance?
And, most of all, will Stevie recover?
Throughout the book, these questions were answered. Eden and Josh's importance came by flashbacks.
I didn't like the drama. Josh was a good brother. He cared for Stevie. She didn't need to treat him like yesterday's news. Things happened. Life happened. The way we had this revealed to us was annoying. I wanted something more out of this book.
I was happy that we had her road to recovery because that's the most important part in my opinion.
I'll Wait For You At the Gate:
This book didn't really have romance. The romance came from Eden mostly, and that can't be considered romance. It was more along the lines of domineering somebody. I didn't like that. I liked that it involved LGBT, but Eden was so...oppressing. She conquered people. She was the owner. I felt like she oppressed Stevie. She may have made Stevie feel something, but all I felt was annoyance. And a bit of rage. Eden was cruel to Stevie. Stevie deserved someone better.
Perks and Upgrades:
Eating disorders. I want to talk about this. Eating disorders are serious. They can cause health problems and even death. They aren't some passing matter.
I'm happy that this book showed bulimia in a different light. It showed the disorder as it really is. This book showed that eating disorders are real. It showed that eating disorders can control your life. I hated what happened to Stevie, but I appreciated the message this book carried.
I don’t need contact; don’t need food. I do not need.
Location 591 'Paperweight'
Eating disorders are serious. And if you have one, you can recover. (I know how lame that sounds, but it's true.)
You Have Arrived at Your Destination:
But at the end...I got teary. I felt the pangs of sadness and joy and hope. Stevie had hope. And that's important.
I wanted Stevie to get better. And it seemed like she would. She was stronger. Smarter. I admired her strength and determination.
Drama happened at the end of the book. Ashley. And Stevie's dad. And acceptance. And the Anniversary. I loved how Stevie finally accepted her life. She finally turned towards recovery. It's tough, but she could do it. And she did.
I hope people like Stevie read this book and know that they aren't alone.
Stevie annoyed me at first, but with time, I started to feel for her character.
The plot was a bit dull. Not much happened.
I liked that the story showed bulimia and anorexia in a different light. It showed the readers that these are real and that they can change someone's life.
The romance was lacking. It seemed to be a very tough relationship.
The ending got me all teary-eyed and hopeful.