Hunger by Jackie Kessler

War. Pestilence. Death. Famine. These are the four Riders of the Apocalypse. A myth to many, a thing of the future to some. But imagine if they were real, and they were wandering the earth right now. And now imagine being one of these riders.

This is the premise for the Horsemen of the Apocalypse: The Rider’s Quartet by Jackie Kessler. Hunger is the first book in the young adult series.

Lisabeth Lewis is anorexic, but don’t tell her that. She’ll tell you she’s on a diet, trying to lose the last few pounds that will allow her to have the perfect body, something her boyfriend will revel in, and her aloof mom will be proud of. In reality, she suffers all the classic symptoms of anorexia nervosa: a distorted body image, an obsession with food and cooking, and a little voice inside her head that she calls “the thin voice.” She’s miserable, and tired, and confused: “She saw herself there in the glass, the Lisabeth Lewis that she hated more than anything else: fat and scared, desperately attempting to mask her flaws with baggy clothing and a glint of makeup. Even with the jacket on, she couldn’t disguise her bulk, the sheer heaviness of her frame. God, how could she think to leave the house looking like this?”

She hears a knock at the door one night. The night she’s trying to kill herself by overdosing on her mom’s happy pills. A delivery man hands her a scale and says “Thou art the Black Rider. Go thee out unto the world.” She accepts the scale, thinking it’s all a dream. Little does she know, her new ride is parked out in the garden, munching on flowers: “The black horse waited, and Lisabeth Lewis, the new incarnation of Famine, dreamed of fields of dust.”

Kessler uses this metaphor to show the process of Lisabeth rationalizing her diet and extreme exercise regiment, her friends and family’s slow recognition of the seriousness of her illness, Lisabeth herself coming to terms with her disease, and then the healing process. As the Black Rider, Lisabeth can turn food to ash, spreading Famine through the world. But she doens’t want to hurt other people, and slowly recognizes she doesn’t want to hurt herself. Not anymore.

This book reminded me a lot of Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson. Both girls are dealing with severe mental issues. Their families are unaware, and often pay little attention to their struggling daughters. The girls have alienated their friends. They are just going through the motions of life without any feeling or passion. They are filled with fear. The book is told mostly through internal dialogue, and the girl’s have similar voices. But where Speak is told in a very real way, Hunger is told as a metaphor. In the end, the realness of Speak is much more compelling.

Hunger is a great read for any young adult girl struggling with their body image. The writing is simple, Lisabeth is easy to empathize with, and it has a positive-but-not-too-cheery ending.

The writing:

“Thinking about the foods to come, the horse bent its head to the bush and began to nibble. Inside the Lewis house, Lisabeth chewed and chewed her food. As she swallowed, around the world, hunger was momentarily sated.”

“In a rush, the world opened its mouth to her, and it was screaming.”

Lisabeth:

“Lisa wasn’t a touchy-feely sort of girl. Hugs were rare in her family. And it had taken her eeks of dating James to get comfortable with his casual touches. Lately, being physical with him was an exercies in method acting. it wasn’t that she didn’t enjoy what they did together, but rather that she simply couldn’t believe that he wanted to be together with her. Every time James touched her, Lisa had to pretend that she was worthy of his affection. It was exhausting.”

“Death smiled at her—such a heartbreakingly sad smile—and said, ‘I can’t make you be anything, Lisabeth Lewis. Only you can change what you choose to be.’
Lisa looked down at her feet, wishing she were anyone but herself.”

Ending:

“And she paused, staring at the lettuce dipped in dressing. She tried not to think about fat and calories and how long she’d have to be on the exercise bike to work it off.
‘You can do it,’ James said, squeezing her hand.
‘I can,’ she said, wanting desperately to believe.
She could.
Lisabeth Lewis, seventeen and no longer Famine, took the first bite of the rest of her life.”

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