Yara Zgheib’s novel of a young woman struggling with anorexia is not an easy book to read and it is not an easy book to review.
It was not easy to read because the pain of the women, they are all over eighteen and under forty, in treatment at a residential program at 17 Swann Street in St. Louis, Missouri is raw and bare and bleak. That is as it should be, with diseases like anorexia and bulimia. Your heart will break for Emm, for Valerie, for Sarah, for Julie, for Anna… for the unnamed characters and, maybe more importantly, for the real women and girls who struggle with eating disorders.
It was not easy to read and no book about the topic Yara Zgheib chose should be an easy read. I think the reader is supposed to be made uncomfortable, supposed to look at the snacks she eats so easily while reading with a different perspective, supposed to realize that there are things cannot be fully understood without experiencing them.
It was not an easy book to review because there are flaws in the story, things that left me wanting more, wanting better, and I don’t know quite know how to say that about a book with anorexia at it’s core.
But it is still a novel and novels are meant to be read and discussed so… Anna Roux is the focus of The Girls at 17 Swann Street. She was a ballerina in Paris who followed her husband, Matthias, to St. Louis for a job. And she got a job working at a supermarket, which is maybe ironic for someone struggling with anorexia. Anna, though, she’s not the most relatable woman in the story. Maybe because she isn’t developed quite enough? There are many, many, many flashbacks to a happier, more nutritional time of her life but they are very oddly scattered and placed, hardly being clear enough to explain present-day Anna before the story is pulled back to Anna at Swann Street. She seems sometimes to be defined by her anorexia, as a plot, when much of the dialogue centers on the idea that no one is their disease, no one is defined by their disease.
I wanted to read more about Emm, about Valerie and Sarah… about the ‘girls’ at 17 Swann Street, if you will. Anna finds out tidbits about why they all are there, but only tidbits. The other girls don’t exist very well without Anna. In away, I suppose, I feel like I was expecting an ensemble story, about the girls at 17 Swann Street, not just the one girl and her friends.
So my advice is this – don’t read this book if in-depth and often haunting descriptions of eating disorders and their affects are triggers for you but do read this book if you want to better understand a life lived with an eating disorder, don’t read this book if you’re looking for a well-developed ensemble story but do read this book if you want something fairly quick and focused on a single character.
- The Girls at 17 Swann Street by Yara Zgheib
- on sale: February 5, 2019 (published by St. Martin’s Press)
- my rating: 3 stars
- categories/genres: fiction / literary fiction / eating disorders / ballerinas / contemporary / hard-hitting contemporary / residential treatment programs / new adult
I received a copy of The Girls at 17 Swann Street from St. Martin’s Press through NetGalley in exchange for an honest and original review. All thoughts are my own.