Beauty pageant winner, homecoming queen--Lara has the world at her feet. Until she gets fat. Despite a strict diet and workout schedule, Lara is soon a nameless, faceless, 200-pound-plus teenage blimp. She's desperate to get her to-die-for body back--and to find an explanation for her rapid weight gain. When she's diagnosed with a mysterious metabolic disorder that has no known cure, Lara fears she'll spend the rest of her life trapped in a fat suit. Who will stand by her? Her image-conscious family? Her shallow friends? Her handsome boyfriend? Or will she be left alone in the land of the fat girls?
Sixteen year old Nashville, TN teen Lara Ardeche is pretty, popular, and has been well acquainted with the beauty pageant circuit for most of her life. She even has the perfect, hot boyfriend and is pretty much a shoe-in for becoming the next homecoming queen. Life is perfect. Except that her entire self-worth is built around her looks. This perfect life takes a drastic shift the night of the homecoming dance, when Lara sees some of her popular friends picking on the high school's resident "fat girl" target, Patty Asher. Lara makes a weak attempt at getting them to stop, but can't understand when Patty seems more angry with Lara than her friends. Lara honestly can't see how patronizing she's coming off. She thinks she's being really sweet and charitable, being nice to fat kids and other underdogs / social pariah of the school ... even throws out the "my best friend is a bigger girl" line. Yeah, can't imagine why that didn't go over better.
Just a couple weeks after that night at homecoming, Lara starts to see noticeable weight gain on her own body. While I didn't love "skinny Lara", this is where I started to feel sorry for the character because here we start to see just how horrid her parents are, and where her obsession with looks stems from. Lara's parents are the type that just cannot fathom having a fat, unattractive child. They guilt and embarrass Lara about her looks to the point of pushing the poor girl into starvation diets and unhealthy, brutal workout regimes. When Lara's primary doctor suggests talking with a therapist to see if there might be an emotional trigger around the weight gain, her parents really flip -- there's no way any child of theirs could be emotionally damaged. Yeah.. those kind of people. Lara's mother even goes so far as to tear into Lara about how her weight gain is "ruining her life" and how "you're lucky your boyfriend hasn't dumped you." Even one of Lara's so-called friends admit that she sees Jett, the boyfriend, "like a saint, standing by you after you got so..." Can't even bring herself to finish her statement. Well, with friends like those, is it any wonder Lara develops serious depression, even battling suicidal thoughts?!
"I decided that I don't have to believe the world when it tells me I'm not okay."
~ Lara's piano teacher, Suzanne, who has had her own struggles with battling obesity.
Lara doesn't know what to do except to increase her insane marathon workout sessions and fad diets, running herself ragged even though nothing seems to be making a dent and her numbers only creep up. That is, until one endocrinologist comes forward to say that there's a good possibility the problem is in her genes, that she has a (fictional, made up by the author) disorder called Axell-Crowne Sydrome. Not long after, Lara comes into some newer, healthier friendships with people who teach her to not fall into using life's disadvantages as a crutch or a way to give up, but to instead use them as learning opportunities and stepping stones to bigger and better things.
It's so funny. It used to be that people liked me, before they knew me, because of how I looked. And now people dislike me before they know me, because of how I look. ~ Lara
While there weren't any hardcore revelations or emotional pangs for me in the reading of this story, it did bring to mind some of my own HS struggles and reminded me of why I'm glad to be out of that period of my life! It also makes you wonder about those popular kids you thought must have everything, and what kind of screwed up, priorities-in-the-wrong-place parents they went home to every day. I did like that Lara had a friend like Molly ("my best friend is a bigger girl" Molly) who had been through hell about her weight and had come out so strong in her own self-worth that she was able to stand by Lara the entire time while everyone else turned away from her for one reason or another. It was also pretty impressive how the younger brother stepped up to defend her, even though in the beginning he's the typical brother, acting like he couldn't care less what she's going through. In the end it was a good "family is who you make it with" kind of story that had moments that were sad (some near the end got surprisingly really dark!) but ultimately heartwarming and inspiring. Definitely recommend for at least one read through :-)