Nothing Tastes as Good by Claire Hennessy (YA)

 

Don’t call her a guardian angel. Annabel is dead – but she hasn’t completely gone away. Annabel immediately understands why her first assignment as a ghostly helper is to her old classmate: Julia is fat. And being fat makes you unhappy. Simple, right?

As Annabel shadows Julia’s life in the pressured final year of school, Julia gradually lets Annabel’s voice in, guiding her thoughts towards her body, food and control.

But nothing is as simple as it first seems. Spending time in Julia’s head seems to be having its own effect on Annabel . . . And she knows that once the voices take hold, it’s hard to ignore them.

 

Author and all-around nice human being Claire Hennessy brings us this modern tale with a unique voice: that of snarky, cynical Annabel.   Through Annabel’s perspective, we follow the arc of Julia, a student in the school that Annabel herself attended.   Part of the book’s commentary on the status of eating disorders as a discussion topic in society is in Julia’ difficulty in finding any information about Annabel, once she suspects who she may have been.

Nothing Tastes as Good is ostensibly a narrative on various eating disorders, but more accurately on how they can be developed, in this case in the teenage years.   Pressures from school, home, part-time jobs and the pressure of just being a teenage girl are all at play here.   Julia’s apparent issues with food are presented to you as the facts that Annabel sees at first when she is sent as a ‘ghostly helper’ to her.   The reader is invited to judge Julia based on the amount of food she eats, and how she hides it from her family and friends, without having any backstory, which I found to be an effective method in analysing my own attitudes towards eating disorders and/or mental illnesses.

Claire Hennessy’s style is witty and fun, despite the sometimes heavy subject-matter.   Some of the writing is a riot.   A lot of narration is told through text messages and descriptions of how messages make our main characters feel.

‘…winky-facing its way into her heart.’

…being one of the phrases that killed me, in context of course.

Claire Hennessy is a creative writing teacher at Big Smoke writing factory in Dublin, as well as an avid book-reader and Puffin Ireland editor at Penguin Random House (among other things!).   Here she puts her money where her mouth is so to speak with an unflinching story dealing with plenty of issues, among them eating disorders.   There is some wry social commentary on journalism in Ireland, grammar (!) and social norms.   Julia is a character you really empathise with and root for, especially as you learn more about her.   Annabel’s arc is also satisfying, considering she starts her job as ‘helper’ without a lot of love for it, to say the least.

As part of what can only be called Ireland’s YA revolution, Nothing Tastes as Good sits up there with the best of the last few years.   I would recommend it for anyone to read, as there’s something in there for everyone.   The characters are well-written and developed, particularly Julia’s friend’s Gavin and Maria.   The dialogue is realistic.   Most importantly, the plot is excellent, and heart-breaking in parts, giving you all the feels.

 

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