Date of Publication: April 22 2014
Source: For review
"Thick. Heavy. Big boned. Plump. Full figured. Chunky. Womanly. Large. Curvy. Plus-size. Hefty." To sixteen-year-old Emery Jackson, these are all just euphemisms for the big "F" word—"fat." Living on a Southern California beach with her workout fiend dad, underwear model sister, and former model mother, it is impossible for Emery not to be aware of her weight.
Emery is okay with how things are. That is, until her "momager" signs her up for Fifty Pounds to Freedom, a reality show in which Emery will have to lose fifty pounds in fifty days in order to win the million dollars that will solve her family's financial woes. Emery is skeptical of the process, but when the pounds start to come off and the ratings skyrocket, she finds it hard to resist the adoration of her new figure and the world of fame. Emery knows that things have changed. But is it for the better?
First off, I think this cover deserves a lot of credit. A full handful of people asked to see the book, so it's obviously a great cover because it attracts peoples' attention.
It seems like I have read almost every book ever about reality tv. It's something I've read some about, so I know a lot of the tropes, and Ken Baker did use some of them. That doesn't mean that How I Got Skinny, Famous, and Fell Madly in Love didn't have some twists.
The main story arc of Skinny is Emery dealing with her weight. Emery is obese and she has always lived that way. Her relationship with food is complex, and her relationships with her family, including her dad, the motivational speaker and ex-NBA player, her mom, a former actress, and her skinny, model sister Angel, were all damaging. Emery had a lot to deal with but her life wasn't all that bad. She still had Ben, who was sweet and supportive and always awesome.
What I had to do in order to enjoy Skinny was accept that I did disagree with Emery on some things. I didn't like her attitude, which was rude and condescending. Emery always acted like she was the smartest person in the room. She was also extremely self righteous. Emery honestly believed that she was in the right for thinking, for example, that shaving hair is a freedom (as a proponent of long hair, and someone that does like my hair, no thanks). In fact, I couldn't relate to Emery sometimes because I don't have the same relationship with food that she has (I actually like healthy food!), and frankly weight loss isn't an issue for me. Do I like Emery as a person now? I don't know. I believe she is flawed, but who isn't?
I think that, although I didn't connect with Emery as much as I could have, Emery's characterization was strong. By the end of the book I was sympathetic to Emery and her plight. Emery was informed and snarky, and I feel like if we met we would either hate each other or adore each other because a lot of the things I don't like about Emery's personality are traits in myself I try to control. Emery was an active citizen and person, and her take was always fascinating.
The writing succeeded in capturing my attention. There were many pop culture references, but somehow Ken Baker made it seem natural. I loved seeing Emery's schedules and lists. Changing the writing style once in a while never hurts. It's extremely clear that Ken Baker knows a lot about the reality TV business and the pressures that come with maintaining that ideal body.
For the rest of the book, my review depends on how I look at the story. If I'm considering this book as more of an exploration of a theme than a story, then I say mission accomplished. Emery was truly obese and had multiple issues. She remarked a lot about how words like "fat" were hurtful, and I think that just being in her head was insightful.
On the other hand, the storytelling was very weak. The plot took a while to get going, and then it promptly stopped. The ending was a little bit of a cop-out because it felt like Ken Baker knew his message was communicated, so he shut the story down. Up to that point, there had been slow characterization for the secondary characters and I was curious to see how everyone would reconcile their issues. They didn't. In some ways, I don't mind because you rarely see this in a book, a story ending with so many open plots just ignored, and I think the shock factor is pretty good.
On the other hand, I can see how if you were really invested in Emery, this kind of ending could piss you off because it's not final at all. In fact, this could be the ending of a chapter. The reader doesn't know if Emery will be okay, or if Emery actually makes lasting progress with her family, or anything. There's a little hopeful burst and the story ends.
A lot of the story and plot is underdeveloped, and that's probably because this book is about the idea of living with obesity, and what kind of impact weight actually makes on freedom. Now, that being said, I think I liked it. It's refreshing to read a short, yet entertaining book with a very ambiguous ending. I feel like the rest of the book could be clichéd if Baker had continued, but he stopped for some reason and the story is over. And, somehow that works.
Books are weird. This one is between 2 and 3 stars, because the story was underdeveloped but also entertaining. Hard decision, but I'll stay consistent and go for 2.