At one time or another, most of us have struggled with weight or body image issues. Ann Gilardi, the 16-year-old narrator of K. A. Barson’s 45 Pounds (More or Less) (Viking, July 2013) has made it her goal is to lose that number of pounds by her aunt’s wedding, less than three months away. It quickly becomes clear that Ann has been down this road before. Aside from the time the teen spends with her Gram, Ann never quite feels that she fits in—be it in her clothes, at work, or within her own family. However, by the novel’s end, the insight this plucky protagonist gains about herself and her family outweighs the pounds she sheds.
What were the seeds of 45 Pounds?
I’ve been working on the book since 2006. At first, all I wanted to do was tell the story of a girl who was heavier in her own mind than she was in reality. Many books have protagonists who aren’t overweight but think they are; Ann is overweight and it has affected her social life, but the issue is more nuanced than that.
Ann’s mindset is so believable. Have you worked with teens who struggle with body image and eating disorders? Have you grappled with these issues yourself?
All of the above. Some of Ann’s internal thoughts are 100 percent me; I hate to admit that. The feelings are real, and I still struggle with them. I homeschooled my children in a cooperative and had classes that included my kids and their peers. Some of what is in the book came from them—not specific children, but bits of dialogue and the way in which they thought out loud.
As the book progresses, we see that Ann’s mother has her own body image issues.
Ann’s mother Suzy thinks she’s doing the best for her child. She would never call Ann fat, and she never says cruel things to her daughter. She sees being overweight as a hindrance to Ann. Part of my goal was for girls to realize that mothers have pure intentions, even if the things they do don’t necessarily come across that way.
What Ann picks up on are the subliminal messages that her mother sends out. Once she develops compassion for her mother, she recognizes that the woman was really directing these comments at herself.
Ann’s turmoil was internal….She was viewing [her weight and her family life] through a lens that was skewed.
As Ann waits for her S2S [diet] system to arrive, she says: “I’d better eat all the crap I can now, because once I start on S2S there’ll be no more real food for a long time.” It so perfectly captures the universal propensity to procrastinate.
I think those lines every day, unfortunately: “I’ll think about that tomorrow, but today I’ll do what I want.”
Ann needs to lose 45 pounds in order to conform to her “ideal weight” by the wedding. But it’s not until her focus turns from counting calories to adopting a healthy lifestyle that she is able to make some progress.
[Those weight charts are] kind of dangerous. Your “healthy” weight may vary [depending on which diet program you subscribe to or what doctor you see]. With my character, I wanted the focus to be on health rather than vanity.
You could hand this book to readers who might not have these issues, and they would enjoy Ann’s sense of humor and her struggle to fit in.
There are many people like Ann…. The cliques aren’t necessarily mean to Ann, but they’re not including her either. Some of it is Ann, too. Had she stepped up a little bit, out of her comfort zone, they’d have included her.
Raynee is such a winning character. She risks losing her popular friends to do the right thing by Ann. That’s rare, isn’t it?
Bullies…[are often] people who are scared or threatened. Here comes Ann and she’s buddying up to Raynee, and between the two of them, they are growing in confidence. [Raynee's friend Courtney is thinking,] “And what if she comes here and upheaves everything?” It was Courtney’s own insecurities, not Ann. I don’t think there was anyone [in the book] who was just evil.
What is your next novel about?
A cosmetology student who’s controlling in her own life, and expects a high bar from everyone around her until everything falls apart. She has to figure out what she’s done to contribute to it. Ann and Raynee make a cameo in the new book.
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