The Girls at 17 Swann Street ~ Yara Zgheib

In one of my sneak away from work trips to the library, I picked this book up in the New Fiction section. Staying true to my challenge to read only female authors this year, I was excited to step out of my typical genre’s and explore something different.

I read a few other book reviews and found somethings that I hadn’t noticed but brought clarity to the story.

First off, this is book about a girl named Anna and her husband Matthias, who are originally from Paris. Anna is anorexic and Matthias checks her into a residential treatment facility for eating disorders. The story evolves to understand Anna’s disease, as well as those in the house, with flash backs to the girl she once was.

A few things that I disliked about the book. One, as one blogger had pointed out, the characters where underdeveloped. There is was not a lot of back story as to what happened in Anna’s life that would make her refuse to talk about her past, and there was very little information as to what caused Anna to spiral out of control, other than her husband worked long hours. Granted, she was in a new country, but it seemed as though Anna’s inability to join a ballet team was more of the source of her depression and eating disorder.

Two is that there was no back story on any of the other characters. No explanation of why Emm was considered the head of the group and had relapsed so many time. Nor was there much information about the girls who had checked into a hospital due to the severity of their disorders.

And finally, Anna put so much emphasis on Matthias that it became clear she put all her failures and successes on him instead of on her. She was so dependent on him, she couldn’t function. Plus, I think there were way too many “exceptions” given to her and Matthias that other patients did not get.

What I did enjoy, although I wish there was more depth to it, was learning more about eating disorders. While I have struggled with my weight and self-image, purging was something I couldn’t ever really do, unless I had completely overeaten to the point of sickness. Binge eating on the other hand, I had (have) that down pretty good. I could never understand anorexia though. Most girls who are anorexic are already beautifully thin. Yet they don’t see themselves that way.

Society assumes that if you are thin you are happy and if you are fat you are miserable. That may be for some, but not all of us. This book touches on both sides of the eating disorder spectrum and the challenges anorexics face in treatment centers that are designed to help them gain weight in a faster progression. Each bite is a battle and every meal becomes a war.

In all, I enjoyed the book and felt I had delved into a topic that still remains taboo in our culture. I wish there had been more in the way of an ending and that we at least had some idea of what happened to the other girls at 17 Swann Street. Haunting and sad, with not a lot of depth. A good weekend read if you are wanting something with a little sadness but nothing too dark.

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