“The Girls at 17 Swann Street” by Yara Zgheib

Genre:          General FictionThe girls
Publisher:    St. Martin’s Press
Pub. Date:   February 5, 2019

Due to the Goodreads blurb (The chocolate went first, then the cheese, the fries, the ice cream. The bread was more difficult, but if she could just lose a little more weight) the reader knows right away that the story will revolve around a young female with an eating disorder.   Author Yara Zgheib is a Fulbright scholar, which explains her intelligent yet poignant prose.  Her novel is inspired by her own experience with the disease. The story is eerily similar to the movie “Girl Interrupted,” the true story of Susanna Kaysen (played by Winona Ryder).  Though they depict different mental disorders, both are heartbreaking stories of girls living in a treatment center, fighting a disease that can take their life.  Both characters are at a crossroad between deciding to live in such a facility forever or to attempt to rejoin society—like all addictions, easier said than done.

Since I skipped the blurb, I wasn’t aware of the book’s subject matter.  I probably wouldn’t have picked this novel to review because I am someone who has lived long enough to have heard and read countless female celebs who have talked of their anorexia/bulimia during interviews and/or read of their disorder in their autobiographies.   Plus, I grew up in the age of Twiggy.  Back then, all of us girls starved ourselves to look like her.  In the 1960s, at least where I grew up, no one had ever even heard of the term “eating disorder.”  For me, the disease didn’t seriously enter my consciousness until 1983, when singer Karen Carpenter died due to heart failure brought on by her unpublicized anorexia.    On a personal note, for someone who survived the age of the “Twiggy look,” it was disheartening to observe the skinniness fetish make a comeback in the “heroin chic” of the 1990s.

With that said, I applaud that the author frequently mentions the inpatients who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTS).   Unaddressed trauma can manifest itself as an eating disorder.  It can be deadly when the eating disorder is treated but not the underlying trauma.  Sadly, these are the unlucky girls and young women who often die from starving or binging or both.   I was similarly impressed that the author, in a debut novel, uses an unusual writing style. The story is told in different fonts.  One for internal thoughts and another for external words, there is also a third style.  It is used as the sort of commentary that you would find in a medical journal.  This is how Zgheib weaves education into the plot to enlighten the reader throughout the novel.

In a nutshell, I can safely write that if you are struggling with the disorder yourself, or if you are unfamiliar with the topic, this story will make you cry (skeletal women gasping to breathe), and learn (the causes of the disease) and hopefully grow (as with other addictions one is never considered cured, but may learn to live a good life).   However, I suggest that you skip this one if you have read the many other titles out there on the subject, such as, “Wasted: A Memoir of Anorexia and Bulimia” or “Brave Girl Eating: A Family’s Struggle with Anorexia.”   “Swann Street” is a good novel, but I didn’t find anything new in the story that wasn’t said before.

I received this Advance Review Copy (ARC) novel from the publisher at no cost in exchange for an honest review.

Open link to buy “The Girls at 17 Swann Street” on Amazon.

Find all my book reviews at:

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/review/list/4793025
Leave Me Alone I am Reading & Reviewing: https://books6259.wordpress.com/
Twitter: Martie’s Book: https://twitter.com/NeesRecord

8 thoughts on ““The Girls at 17 Swann Street” by Yara Zgheib

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