A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Alexandra Ballard's What I Lost is a novel about a teen, Elizabeth, battling anorexia. The story follows Elizabeth's ups and downs in treatment, detailing the numerous factors that contribute to anorexia and the difficulties in treating it. Readers will get an idea of the mental and physical challenges anorexics face and the ripple effect the disease has on friends and family. Most of the book takes place in a residential treatment facility, where Elizabeth meets girls with lots of personal issues. Family dynamics are a strong theme, and the story provides great discussion topics for families. The book has no violence, some making out, and infrequent strong language (includes "shit," "hell," "God," "damn," and "a--hole"). There are mentions of teens drinking beer on the beach, and one teen smokes cigarettes.
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What's the story?
In WHAT I LOST, teen Elizabeth Barnes is checked into a residential treatment facility for her anorexia. A visit she figures will be a week, tops, turns into more than a month of hard work and self-realization. One of the biggest problems she faces in recovery is wanting to recover. Told in first person, Elizabeth relates her struggles in detail. While she frets about her friends and ex-boyfriend moving on in junior year and leaving her behind, she makes new friends in treatment and gains empathy for those battling their own demons. She learns that many people have their own emotional baggage, even if they display no outward signs of it. Her relationship with her parents and their behaviors around her illness are eye-opening. A romantic mystery involving a secret admirer sending her gifts while she's in the treatment center balances the more serious plot points.
Is it any good?
This uplifting and engaging story of a girl battling anorexia is a good choice for teens who like topical reads. In What I Lost, author Alexandra Ballard shows the reader how anorexics' minds work: the mental games they play, how they see themselves, and the negative things they say to themselves. We also see the cultural and social factors that contribute to anorexia. Elizabeth's a smart, funny, kind narrator whom readers will root for as she works through her problems. The other girls in treatment have the same illness but come from different backgrounds and have different battles to deal with. In this way, Ballard shows why treatment is difficult: There's no one-size-fits-all solution.
Elizabeth's difficult relationship with her parents is realistically portrayed. Instead of being the one-dimensional characters often found in YA fiction, her parents are well fleshed-out and grow and change over the course of the book. The subplots around Elizabeth's school friends, ex-boyfriend, and a mystery admirer keep What I Lost from getting too heavy and tough to read. In all, Ballard does a good job of making difficult subject matter enjoyable and engaging.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the way parents are portrayed in books like What I Lost. Many books and movies for teens portray parents as clueless. Why do you think this is?
Sometimes it is difficult to know what to do when someone you care about is in crisis. Some people stay away, while some jump in to help. Has this ever happened in your own life?
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