Not Hungry – Kate Karyus Quinn

Lie #1 – “I’m not hungry.”

June is hungry. All the time. When she’s not starving herself she’s bingeing and purging, but because she’s overweight no one realises she has an eating disorder. All they see is a fat girl on a diet.

“The purging place,”
I call it.

Where I bury my shame.

Lie #2 – “I’m fine.”

June isn’t fine. Neither is her sister, Mae, whose boyfriend treats her like garbage. Neither is Toby, who lives next door and has secrets of his own.

Everyone has secrets.

Lie #3 – “It’ll be okay.”

Like most lies, it’s the thing we most wish was true.

This is a short book written in verse that introduces a variety of issues that many teens deal with, including eating disorders and fat shaming. The story flows well and it was easy to follow along with who everyone was and their relationships to one another.

The ending felt a bit rushed and too neat for me, but I still managed to get all of the answers I wanted. I didn’t become emotionally involved with any of the characters, but I thought the author did well to include all of the details they did with a limited word count. Even though I didn’t get attached to any specific character I could have quite happily strangled Mae’s boyfriend for her and I was certainly not a fan of Toby.

Content warnings include eating disorders, body shaming, dating violence and mentions of family violence and drug addiction.

Thank you to NetGalley and West 44 Books, an imprint of Enslow Publishing, for the opportunity to read this book. I love hi-lo books! Hi-Lo are high-interest, low-readability books and I love that I live in a world where these books exist. On their website, West 44 Books advises their young adult books are Reading Level: 3-4, Interest Level: 9-12.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

June is fat. June also has an eating disorder, but no one sees. When she doesn’t eat, her friends and family think they see a fat girl on a diet, not someone starving herself. When June’s secret is found out by Toby, the new boy next door, she is panicked. Then she learns he also has a secret. Everyone has their own little lies.

What If? – Anna Russell

Josh is a drummer, is good at maths and loves The Beatles. He also needs to count the cracks in the ceiling and perform specific rituals exactly the right way or something really bad will happen. Josh has Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and that is why I needed to read this book.

I have a family member with OCD and I was the one that unofficially diagnosed them several years before someone qualified to do so concurred. Besides living with it I’ve spent countless hours researching OCD to try to get into this person’s head, to understand why the light switch has to be turned on and off so many times and why they’ve had a catalogue of obsessions and rituals, some constant and others morphing, over the years.

When I discovered this was a hi-lo book I was initially disappointed as my first hi-lo experience was a let down. I was pleasant surprised by this book though, finding the explanations of what OCD is and how it affects Josh’s everyday life easy to understand and accurate. I really liked Josh’s psychiatrist, who takes a perplexing condition and explains the basics in a down to earth way.

There are descriptions of Josh’s struggles before and after his diagnosis and I appreciated that his treatment was multifaceted. I did feel that Josh’s acceptance of his condition and how quickly he began to learn to manage it wandered into wishful thinking territory but acknowledge that that may be my experience talking.

I thought the information given to Josh about a family member towards the end of the book was obvious from the beginning but again I concede that my experience may account for my “I already knew that” moment. I loved that the other characters accepted Josh and tried to understand what he was going through and that his diagnosis wasn’t the end of the world, resulting instead in learning to manage it and accepting help from others.

I was interested in the characters’ stories but didn’t become emotionally invested with anyone. However I don’t think it’s fair to automatically expect a lifelong bond with characters you meet during such a short book.

While I would have liked the impact of Josh’s diagnosis on his family to be explored further I understood that the length of the book made a deep dive on the issues raised prohibitive. Similarly the impact of the death of another character’s parent was only lightly touched on. I loved the way that music was woven through the story.

I really liked that this book was told in verse; the way it was written made poetry more accessible than anything I came across in high school. Besides its intended purpose as a hi-lo book I think What If? would also be a helpful introduction to OCD for teens who have recently been diagnosed and their family members, regardless of their reading level.

Thank you to NetGalley and West 44 Books for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Josh Baker isn’t sure why his brain tells him to do things that other people don’t need to do: checking his locker again and again, counting cracks in ceilings, and always needing to finish a song, for starters. He is a talented drummer, a math genius, and he knows everything about rock and roll. Yet, he knows his problems have the power to hurt his family and make him fail at school. When Josh is diagnosed with OCD, it’s a blessing and a curse. Can he overcome his thoughts, or will they break him?

Epic Fail – Cristy Watson

Spoilers Ahead!

Jared, Bree and Kenzie have been friends for a long time, until the events that took place at a party two years ago. Jared knew his brother planned this party with his Year 12 friends with the sole purpose of having sex with as many Year 9 girls as possible. Apparently these get togethers are a common occurrence. Jared fails to warn his friends and Kenzie is raped at the party. Jared’s guilt comes to a head when a photo of Kenzie from the night she was raped is posted on social media.

Before reading this book I’d never heard of a Hi-Lo book. For those as in the dark as I was, Hi-Lo are high-interest, low-readability books; basically books with more mature themes for reluctant readers if my understanding is correct. I love the concept. Anything that helps non-readers become readers is something to be applauded in my world.

I felt this book had potential as it addressed rape culture. It saddens and horrifies me that rape is so prevalent in society that it has its own culture. I’m not sure you can ever say that you enjoy a book where the central theme is sexual assault but in the context of a Hi-Lo book, I think the author did a good job.

I liked that this story is told from the point of view of a 16 year old boy. The majority of books I’ve read about sexual assault are told primarily from a female perspective. I like that at the end of the book the author listed some website resources. I didn’t really find a connection with any of the characters, although that may be in part because this was a quick read and as such there wasn’t the opportunity to get to know the characters as well as you do in longer novels.

I can understand Jared questioning why Kenzie never reported what happened to her. Until you’ve been there you don’t know what you’d do in that situation and there is no right or wrong answer. Some people report. Others don’t. I can understand both sides.

I appreciated the growth shown in Jared’s character throughout the book and how he kept trying to reach out to Kenzie. Jared talks about how useful the mediation training sessions he’s been attending have been but I would have liked to hear more about what he learned so readers could take something else away from the book.

I felt as though some of language attributed to the teens in the book didn’t work for the target audience or as examples of how young people speak. I’m not sure 15 and 16 year olds would be using terms like ‘young man’ used to describe a teenager in a video, or ‘compromising photos’ used to describe nude selfies or revenge porn. Also, some of the conversations read like they belonged in a pamphlet found in a counsellor’s office, not coming out of the mouths of teens.

It really frustrated me that while the author mentioned Kenzie was getting slut shamed on social media, the photograph in question constituted child pornography and no one did anything about it. While the focus is on Kenzie’s rape, there’s all of this blame from the characters towards Bree. Yes, Bree made really bad decisions, but… Maybe there are different laws where the author lives but where I come from a 14 year old girl is not old enough to legally be able to give consent so even if she was all for it, it’s still statutory rape.

I would have liked to have seen at least one person other than the victims experience consequences. Cam gets away with raping Kenzie. Seth gets away with physically abusing Jared, the statutory rape of Bree, and the production and distribution of child pornography. Who knows how many unnamed Year 12 boys raped how many unnamed Year 9 girls at their parties. Countless people in social media land do nothing when they see child pornography being distributed except shame the victim. Bree distributed child pornography and deserves to go down in history as being one of the worst friends ever. Jared’s father gets away with the blatant neglect of his son. No one at the school appears to even acknowledge the fact that Kenzie barely attends. I could probably go on, but that’s enough frustration at the lack of accountability.

Content warnings include sexual assault, victim blaming, suicidal thoughts and actions, and physical abuse.

Thank you very much to NetGalley and Lorimer Children & Teens for the opportunity to read this book. I’d recommend watching Audrie & Daisy to anyone interested in a great documentary that complements the themes of this book quite well.

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Epic Fail tells the story of Kenzie, a 16-year-old half Native American girl, and her two best friends, who have grown up in a multiracial, mixed-income suburb. Two years after a party where Kenzie was raped, she is still dealing with the trauma. When photos of the incident appear on social media there are serious consequences for everyone involved.

This book tells a tough but realistic story about teen relationships and sexual assault and how social media plays a role in magnifying its impact.