One of my summer goals, aside from reading at least 20 books, is to read as many of this year’s Rosie nominated books as possible. For those of you who don’t know what that means, “Rosie” is the nickname for the Eliot Rosewater Indiana High School Book Award. The award is named after a character created by Kurt Vonnegut, probably Indiana’s most famous author. Rosewater not only shows up in several of his novels, but also has one directly named after him, God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater.
Each year Indiana high school students rate the books they read off of the Rosie list. The book that receives the best rating wins the award. The books that come in second and third receive Rosie honors. All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven won the 2016-2017 award and if you haven’t read it, you really should. It was breathtaking and heartbreaking and everything an amazing YA book should be.
Each year there are 20 books nominated and my wonderful school librarian not only has copies of each nominated books, but also highly promotes the books, both to the students and to the staff. Not only did she give each English teacher a great poster of the Rosie nominees, but she also gave us bookmarks and let several of us truly dedicated readers on staff bring home books for the summer. As a result, I have read 12 of the 2017-2018 nominees (7 of them this summer).
The most recent book I checked off my list (the bookmarks actually have check boxes on the back next to each title) was be-liev-a-rex-ic by J.J. Johnson. The author refers to her book as an “autobiographical novel” because she was admitted to an inpatient program for bulimarexia when she was 15. According to Johnson, the admission and discharge dates are real as is the information about the therapy sessions, rules, groups and policies Jennifer goes through in the novel. She does, however, change some of the situations, add fictional details, consolidate characters and change the internal time line to make the story function better. That being said, the book is incredibly real and definitely coincides with other memoirs I’ve read from girls who have been hospitalized for eating disorders.
I think this is a great book for teenagers, especially girls. Unlike several books I’ve read about eating disorders, this one centers on the recovery process. There is no glorification of the disorder nor is there anything that could really constitute a “how to” guide that many books dealing with disorders are accused of containing. The author deals very little with the behavior that lands Jennifer in the hospital and more with the issues that lead her to the hospital. The book is about the road to recovery and the slips along the way.
Considering that according to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, 30 million people in the United States suffer from an eating disorder, it is critical that books like be-liev-a-rex-ic get into the hands of young adults to let them know not only the seriousness of eating disorders, but also that there is hope and help. The statistics on eating disorders are pretty darn scary. Every 62 minutes, one person dies as a direct result of an eating disorder. Eating disorders also have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness.
As a teacher, this is an issue close to my heart. Over the years far too many of my female students have told me about their struggles with eating disorders. Some have been hospitalized. Many have been in counseling. Some have tried to fight it on their own. It breaks my heart even more because I know their struggle. It was my struggle too. Thankfully mine never got to desperate levels, but much like Jennifer, no one around me noticed. I was good at hiding what I was eating…or more specifically, what I wasn’t. When I got to college, I had a wonderful boyfriend who noticed my shaking hands, my fogginess, and the fact that I would go an entire day and only eat a single Kit Kat bar. It took a lot of work, a lot of tears and a lot of self-examination, but I changed my habits. However, food has always been and will always be a life long struggle for me.
While be-liev-a-rexi-ic may not be my favorite book on this year’s Rosie list (right now that honor goes to Salt to the Sea by Rita Sepetys), I think it is an important book teens should read.