45 Pounds (More or Less)

256p. Viking. July 2013. Tr $16.99. ISBN 978-0-670-78482-0.
Gr 8–10—Sixteen-year-old Ann has a big problem. She has just two months to get into a bridesmaid dress for her Aunt Jackie's wedding. She needs to lose 45 pounds, which would be hard enough without the complications of a new job, a cute boy, a mean group of girls, and blended families that leave her caught in the middle-and left out. Her mother is obsessive about her own weight and as the summer wears on, Ann begins to see just how troubled her families are. Telling the story in Ann's wry, realistic voice, this debut author effectively captures society's preoccupation with size and the resulting alienation of an overweight teen. With a chain-smoking grandmother whose language is peppered with "fat-ass," relatives and friends who are slyly disparaging about her weight, and a mother who constantly prods her about dieting, the message could be heavy-handed. But Barson lightens the tone with almost cinematic humor, ensuring that even the most painful scenes have a slapstick edge. The ticking clock behind the wedding deadline gives the story real momentum, and while the ending is all nuptial jubilation, it is also a realistic summer's end for Ann.—Martha Baden, Prescott Public Library, AZ
Sixteen-year-old Ann Galardi wants to lose weight: she can't fit into department store clothes, and her skinny, weight-obsessed mother constantly buys her smaller sizes as "incentive." But it's only when Ann's cool aunt Jackie asks her to be a bridesmaid in her (lesbian) wedding that, with dress shopping looming, Ann resolves to lose forty-five pounds in two months. Her journey is funny and relatable -- if also difficult and depressing. There's eating the weight-loss food she orders off an infomercial ("kind of grainy, kind of tomatoey, but mostly like a sponge"); embarrassing herself in front of her crush ("I hurl nasty-tasting brown liquid all over Jon's used-to-be pure white and clean Nikes"); and getting motivated to exercise ("I decide to download good running songs first. It takes a while. . .I'll run tomorrow"). Debut author Barson writes with a light touch, but unflinchingly confronts stereotypes about overweight people: an irate customer at the pretzel shop where Ann works, for example, cruelly accuses her of eating all the pretzels. The novel doesn't minimalize Ann's struggles, either, illustrating how her obsession with food is tied to her emotions and, for much of the book, her self-worth. But once she recognizes how food affects her life and that of her family, Ann finally understands that she isn't defined by her weight -- a realization that will inspire readers of any size. rachel l. smith

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