The F Word*
Brilliant YA Novel Explores Difficult Themes with Sensitivity and Honesty
I first passed this book by when I saw it at my favorite book review site, but I was intrigued by the combination of cover and title because the cover told me that the book couldn’t be about what the title suggested. I am so glad that I took a second look. This book is simply amazing and breathtaking in its honesty. As knowing but compassionate masters of words and emotions, the authors touch on so many difficult themes. What are some of these themes? As the “F” in the title stands for fat, one is body acceptance and the lengths that some will go to in order to avoid that shaming word. It touches on other kinds of self-acceptance as well, like accepting yourself and your new reality when a tragic event has altered you and your life. It looks at multiple aspects of peer pressure and bullying, dovetailing with the other themes in the book quite smoothly. We don’t know the full extent of everything that’s going on this book right away; everybody’s story and backstory unfurl slowly (again, masterfully done). This book definitely puts you through the emotional wringer, moving you from anger to sadness to hope.
Peyton is super smart, but she is also controlled by society’s view of what we should all look like as exemplified by the mean girls at her school. It was sad to watch her at first try to starve and exercise so she could lose weight, she hopes, before her former best friend (who admitted to a more romantic inclination just before the accident) returned to town for school. She pushes herself until she is on the verge of collapse, and still they kept shaming and bullying her. The authors describe Peyton’s eating and exercise habits in good detail; it is terrible to think that young girls do this to themselves. Believe me, I know. And once you start on that diet merry-go-round, it’s hard to get off; years and years can go by. A lot of what the authors stated about society’s views on fat people and fat women specifically was dead on. I love that Peyton was trying to gain a measure of control of this in at least one aspect, actually coding and creating a social media app that was meant to give those at her school a safe place to come to talk about bullying and other complicated issues.
Cam is a fantastic character as well. He is probably the one who was altered the most physically by the accident that happened 18 months ago. Unfortunately, it didn’t just break his body but also his soul. He struggles with guilt as well as acceptance for the new way his life has to be. His sections were so heartrending and poignant. I loved Nari, the truth teller!
I actually started reading YA novels in my early teens, back when the genre was just getting started in the late 1970s and early 1980s. I sometimes wonder, at my now advanced age, if I should still be reading these kinds of books. After all, there are just regular adult books that would seem to be more age appropriate for me. But books like this remind me why I occasionally still read YA. I think it has a freedom to explore universal themes in a way that regular adult genre books cannot (or at least can’t do without some difficulty in terms of audience acceptance or being thought as a “literary”—read, non-commercial—book). This beautifully written and heartfelt book exemplifies why I still do sometimes read YA.