Believarexic by J.J. Johnson Book Review

Believarexic by J.J. Johnson
Publisher: Peachtree Publishers
Release Date: October 1, 2015

When fifteen-year-old Jennifer tells her family that she has an eating disorder and wants to be admitted to a hospital for eating disorders, her family doesn't believe her. Still they drive an hour and a half to the Samuel Tuke Center where the doctors confirm that yes, Jennifer is sick. Once there though, Jennifer starts to think she has made a horrible mistake. In here she isn't even allowed to go to the bathroom on her own. One of the nurses hates her and is accusing her of all kinds of terrible things. She can't call home when she wants. The treatment program is insane, but Jennifer knows that this place will save her life. Forced to examine her relationship with her parents, friends, and herself, Jennifer slowly begins to find herself again.

When I first became aware of this book's existence, my very first thought was, "I'm not going to read that."It's not because I thought the book sounded bad. I absolutely love the author and her books. It's that I have spent most of my adult life being very careful to avoid anything that would trigger my own eating disorder. When I was struggling with anorexia, books were the first place I went to get tips and tricks. I attended the book launch for this book and even though I bought the book, I did so mostly out of support, still unsure if I would be able to read this book. Then Jen started to speak and she spoke about all my fears and how careful she had been to not add tips and tricks (because she too read eating disorder books as guides) and how she never wrote down weights. And I knew then that maybe I could read it.

Like Jennifer, my parents were not aware of my eating disorder. I was proud of how well I hid it from them and a little bothered that they hadn't noticed. Was I not thin enough to warrant their worry? Like Jennifer, I sought help on my own, although I attended an outpatient support group rather than admitting myself to a hospital. Yet eating disorders are so incredibly individual. No one experience can encapsulate them all and Jennifer didn't try to. She took that time of her life, carefully crafted into a story that is both fiction and non-fiction and created a deeply moving and transcendent tale. Although there are lessons to be learned here, due to its autobiographical nature, not everything is tied up in a perfect bow, which makes the story all the more authentic. The hospital stay feels real and sometimes unfair and very very hard. Unlike some of the other girls in the EDU, Jennifer actually wants to recover and this puts her at odds with them sometimes. I cried with her when she was accused of cheating the system and rejoiced when she made progress in her recovery. I loved the people she loved, like Chuck, and loathed Nurse Ratched...err..Beverly.

The book itself is organized extremely well. Split into parts by the Stage that Jennifer is in at the EDU. More interestingly is how the book is written in third-person stilted free verse poetry in the beginning, but as Jennifer recovers and learns more about herself, it turns into a first-person narrative. As I understand it, this is because the author herself thinks of herself in this way. Pre-eating disorder vs. Recovering from eating disorder. I understand why the book was fictionalized, mostly for visibility within the YA genre, but I did wish it had been purely autobiographical. Mostly because setting this fictional story in the 80s makes it strangely historical fiction, which (as someone born in the 80s) I am not okay with.

This is the story about a flawed heroine who knows that she needs help, but discovers that recovery is a lot of work both physically and mentally. Jennifer has clearly put her heart and soul onto these pages and I think it will speak to many people, not just those with eating disorders.