Published by Hot Key Books on August 24th 2016
Genres: Contemporary, Romance, Young Adult
Amazon | Book Depository | Publisher | Angus & Robertson
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What happens when you give in to the voices in your head? A funny, heartwarming and confronting novel about body image, self esteem and family.
Annabel is dead. And she's not happy about it. Despite having strived to be 'lighter than air' back when she was alive, the consequences of that yearning haven't quite sunk in yet.
Julia Jacobs is fat. Which Annabel immediately notices when she's assigned as Julia's ghostly helper (don't even think about calling her a guardian angel). And as her helper, Julia's problem seems pretty obvious to Annabel. Fat = problem = unhappy. Sorted.
The only trouble is that whatever is causing Julia to overeat is hidden deep within her. Annabel will have to get to know Julia to uncover this secret and 'fix' her. Annabel can become the voice of reason, Julia's source of strength.
Except... all this time spent in someone's head has got Annabel thinking. Not just about food, but about her family too. And that maybe happiness can mean more than eradicating all the flesh from your bones.
Nothing Tastes As Good was a very confronting but important read about body image and confidence. I was a little bit tentative going into the story but ultimately, it blew me away. However, there were a couple of things that held me back from giving it a higher rating and I’m going to get into those now.
Trigger warning for eating disorders.
My biggest problem with the book isn’t really a problem. I was just a bit uncomfortable with some of the things that were going on in the book. Let me explain the plot. Annabel is dead and in order to get one final message back to her family, she must help someone in need and be their spirit guide. Spirit guides don’t actually interact with humans but is more of an all-knowing being who is able to put certain thoughts into their heads. Annabel assigned Julia, a girl who goes to the school that Annabel used to attend… and Julia is overweight. As someone who was engaging in very unhealthy behaviours when she was alive, Annabel seems to think that the solution to Julia’s problems is to lose weight. This was kind of what made me really uncomfortable when I was reading the novel. For a good portion of the book, Annabel encourages very disordered eating behaviour and there’s also a lot of fat-shaming. Even though I’ve never struggled with restrictive eating or really had any problematic body image concerns, I still found it to be a little bit hard to read. I can imagine this story being a trigger for some readers who might have issues with body image and eating. There are also a few things that I found to be really inappropriate, such as teachers discussing a student’s weight and how they think this particular student should exercise. Of course, all of these issues are addressed later on in the book and explicitly deemed problematic, but I was still taken aback by how confronting it was.
Having said that, I really did enjoy what the book offered. Even though the book does contain some problematic behaviours, it was obvious from the start that these things would be tackled later on during the book. I thought it was a really important read that lots of readers would get a lot out of, as long as it’s not triggering at the start. It explores the causes and consequences of eating disorders through both Annabel and Julia’s characters. It also explores self-esteem and standing up for yourself. What I especially loved about the book was that it contains characters that were career-focused and driven and I thought it was a really realistic story. I also loved the little elements of mystery in this book. It’s unclear what Annabel’s story is until halfway through the story and it was an interesting experience trying to figure that out. Likewise, it’s a bit of a mystery what Julia’s story is and exactly why she needs help and guidance from Annabel. These mystery elements kept me engaged in the book because I wanted to find out more.
This is what she needs to do. Not this crazed eating/starving/exercising/panicking cycle, I finally, finally realise. In this moment, she is glorious.
I also highly enjoyed the characters and their development throughout the book. Annabel was definitely not a likeable character at the start because of how judgmental she was, but she gradually develops more empathy and starts to be able to see others and herself more clearly. I ended up loving her character in the end. Julia was definitely my favourite character of the novel though. I found her to be such a relatable character and I could connect with her worries and her struggles. She was definitely a really realistic character. What I appreciated most about the book is that there are no perfect characters. The author highlights each character’s flaws brilliantly and it was so easy to connect with them because they were real people.
Nothing Tastes As Good is a confronting story that might potentially be triggering for some readers. However, I thought the themes and the issues explored in this book were really important and I thought they were executed quite well. The characters were flawed but realistic and the plot of the book was engaging and interesting.
Rating: 4 out of 5
Thank you to Allen & Unwin for providing a review copy of the book.
Nothing Tastes As Good was published by Bonnier in Australia on August 24th, 2016. It is available at all retailers for $19.99 RRP.
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