Sunday, September 5, 2010

Hunger by Jackie Morse Kessler

Reading level: Young Adult
Paperback: 180 pages
Publisher: Graphia (October 18, 2010)

Book summary: "Thou art the Black Rider. Go thee out unto the world." 

Lisabeth Lewis has a black steed, a set of scales, and a new job: she’s been appointed Famine. How will an anorexic seventeen-year-old girl from the suburbs fare as one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse?

Traveling the world on her steed gives Lisa freedom from her troubles at home—her constant battle with hunger, and her struggle to hide it from the people who care about her. But being Famine forces her to go places where hunger is a painful part of everyday life, and to face the horrifying effects of her phenomenal power. Can Lisa find a way to harness that power—and the courage to fight her own inner demons?

My review: Right off the bat I’ll admit I was skeptical after reading the above summary and holding the slim book in my hand. Could the author do an effective job at 180 pages?

Handling the very real topic of food disorders within a work of fiction could be tough. Placing this work within the perimeters of a supernatural world has given Hunger a different and undeniably unique spin. Lisabeth suffers with anorexia. Her sickness has worsened enough that she has distanced herself from her best friend and has begun the same tactic with her boyfriend. Instead she befriends another girl, Tammy, who suffers from bulimia. Lisabeth receives a package and upon opening it discovers a set of old fashioned scales. When a Kurt Cobain-ish looking dude appears inside her room she learns she is Famine, one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse and he is Death himself. That scene definitely kept my interest.

Lisabeth may not come across as likable or wholly sympathetic but she is a fighter, she just needs to have confidence in herself. I enjoyed her scenes with Death and having him look like Nirvana's late singer was genius. Reading this novel was tough at times due to the author's raw handling of eating disorders. Yet, the story was also enlightening and I felt for Lisabeth. There were also little touches found throughout—like Lisabeth having a talk with Pestilence, fetching pralines for her steed, watching her bulimic friend Tammy through Famine’s eyes—which gave this novel heart and staying power. 

Hunger is a trip to read. By employing dark and disturbing supernatural lore, Kessler turned a contemporary YA novel into something more: a quirky, offbeat and riveting story.

Favorite excerpt: (Page 152, ARC edition.) 
     “Lisa was sick of the Thin voice. She was sick of being bullied, of being told she wasn't good enough, of feeling horrible about herself and about her life, of being helpless. 

     Of being a mouse.

     And with that, Lisa was no longer afraid of War, or of the Thin voice, or of life. Lisa spoke to War, telling her that she, Lisabeth Lewis, was helping people and that there wouldn’t be any fighting on the menu today. (She’d thought that particularly clever, what with her being Famine.)

     War hadn’t thought Lisa especially clever. War had shouted, and blustered, and threatened. Blah, blah, blah. Lisa tried talking to her, but really, it was rather funny watching this looming presence be reduced to nothing more than Shakespearean sound and fury.”

Rating: +++1/2

Cover comment: Despite the dark and mysterious background and the symbolic scales, I found the cover to be okay.

Book source: Traveling ARC Tours

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