Hungry for the perfect body

In Hungry: A Mother and Daughter Fight Anorexia, restaurant critic Sheila Himmel and her daughter Lisa write about Lisa’s long struggle with anorexia, bulimia, bingeing and compulsive exercising.

While award-winning food critic Sheila Himmel reviewed exotic cuisines from bistro to brasserie, her daughter, Lisa, was at home starving herself. Before Sheila fully grasped what was happening, her fourteen-year-old with a thirst for life and a palate for the flavors of Vietnam and Afghanistan was replaced by a weight-obsessed, antisocial, hundred-pound nineteen-year-old. From anorexia to bulimia and back again — many times — the Himmels feared for Lisa’s life.

The dialogue between Sheila and her daughter gives the book a special power. What could Lisa be thinking? Lisa tells us.

“Once, as a peace offering to my parents after we’d gotten in a huge fight, I baked a cake from scratch and spelled out ‘I’m sorry’ on the frosting with chocolate and butterscotch chips. My parents never saw it. I tried a little corner piece, just as a taste, but then the surge of adrenaline passed through my body and a little turned into more, which became me taking a fork and diving right in.”

I’ve known Sheila for 35 years. We worked together in my first job out of college and then at the Mercury News. I was at her wedding to Ned. I’ve seen Lisa exercising at the Y.

My daughter, who had many anorexic friends in middle and high school, bought Hungry for me and wrote a note: “Wow!

It was a dark and stormy life

Young-adult fiction is taking “a dark turn,” writes Katie Roiphe in the Wall Street Journal. But tales of suicide, car wrecks, anorexia and kids fighting to the death for survival aren’t depressing, compared to teens’ other reading choices.

Given the grim story lines, not to mention absence of designer shoes and haircuts that readers of lighter young adult titles are accustomed to, it’s easy to assume that this new batch of young-adult books peddles despair. In fact, the genre is more uplifting than the fizzy escapism that long dominated the young adult marketplace. Today’s bestselling authors are careful to infuse the final scenes of these bleak explorations with an element of hope: The heroine wins the hunger games and does not die, Lia is headed toward recovery at the end of “Wintergirls,” Mia decides to live at the end of “If I Stay,” and Clay reaches out to another desperately unhappy girl in “Thirteen Reasons Why,” in the hope of saving her from Hannah’s fate.

. . . As alarming as these books are, there is in all of this bleakness a wholesome and old-fashioned redemption that involves principles like triumph over adversity and affirmations of integrity. In the end, these investigations of personal disaster are much less depressing than the “Gossip Girl” knockoffs which initially seem frolicky and fun but are actually creepy and morally bereft and leave you feeling utterly hopeless.

I’ve never read any of these books. Are they any good? In my day we had to make do with Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights.