Sad Perfect – Stephanie Elliot

This book felt very… extreme. It was hard to read from the protagonist’s perspective, particularly because it’s framed in the infrequently-used 2nd person POV. YOU are “Pea” (which is only a nickname, really).

Synopsis

The story of a teen girl’s struggle with Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder and how love helps her on the road to recovery.

Sixteen-year-old Pea looks normal, but she has a secret: she has Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID). It is like having a monster inside of her, one that not only dictates what she can eat, but also causes anxiety, depression, and thoughts that she doesn’t want to have. When she falls crazy-mad in love with Ben, she hides her disorder from him, pretending that she’s fine. At first, everything really does feel like it’s getting better with him around, so she stops taking her anxiety and depression medication. And that’s when the monster really takes over her life. Just as everything seems lost and hopeless, Pea finds in her family, and in Ben, the support and strength she needs to learn that her eating disorder doesn’t have to control her.

Review

This book felt very… extreme. It was hard to read from the protagonist’s perspective, particularly because it’s framed in the infrequently-used 2nd person POV. YOU are “Pea” (which is only a nickname, really).

As a result, you get put into a frame-of-mind that seems a little unrealistic. You face some sort of monster. You get involved with an obsessive and extreme relationship (which is really glorified and consistently portrayed as good). You experience the horrors of mental institutions (but at the same time, it seems like they do the trick).

I had trouble identifying with such an extreme form of ARFID after all. I’m a notorious picky eater, probably to a greater extent than the protagonist here (I don’t eat vegetables at all, alongside many other foods). The story tries to explain away these characteristics — supposedly, a near-miscarriage and high mouth-sensitivity make it hard to eat. What if there isn’t a reason behind this disorder? Why does everything need to be explained away? Moreover, how can you suddenly just decide to eat? It’s hard to grasp that idea; that you can suddenly be willing to try new food.

Furthermore, I had trouble understanding the link between ARFID and the manic self-harm and depression. In fact, I don’t think they were related at all, in this case. As a result, I felt like this story undervalued the impact of ARFID by clumping it together with the protagonist’s other issues.

Regarding Ben — he’s almost too perfect for his own good. You end up too attached to this guy, and while it’s good to illustrate a support system, I also think this kind of all-consuming attachment was no different from Alex and ultimately is unhealthy. I wish Pea reduced her reliance on him by the end. Because… what IF feelings change? What if something happens to Ben? I feel like there would be dramatic and dangerous repercussions.

Finally, the mental institution gave me a lot of food for thought. On one hand, the story really draws attention to how poorly these systems may be run. By lumping all sorts of problems together, you end up being unable to effectively treat many different ailments. With “tough love” policies, you make living in these situations unbearable. But at the same time, your stint at the institution seems to be just the trigger for you to personally become motivated to get better. So in that case, is an authoritarian, hardline system the only one that can possibly make self-inflicted sufferers “get better”? I don’t think so, and the other troubled teens draw attention to that: they often relapse, they get away with unhealthy things right under the leadership’s noses, and they get pushed over the edge. Treating mental health has a long way to go.

The only good takeaway from this story was that I definitely don’t have ARFID as severe as this protagonist. Thank goodness, I guess?

Related Reading

  • OCD Love Story – Corey Ann Haydu
  • Just Listen – Sarah Dessen
  • Truest – Jackie Lea Sommers

Rating: 3/5

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