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Perfect
by Natasha Friend

Publishing Information: Milkweed Editions: Minneapolis, Minn, 2004
ISBN: 1571316523 / 1571316515 (PB)
Pages
: 172 p.
Ages: 12 & Up

Summary:
Isabelle Lee is dealing with her father's death through bulimia. While in counseling, she is shocked to find her school's "perfect" and popular girl with the same problem.

Book Talk:
Isabelle Lee is miserable. She hates her baby sister, April, for ratting on her. She hates her mother for sending her to group counseling when it's her mother and "Apeface" who cry at night and won't talk about the grief. Isabelle Lee's father has died and her life is upside down and backwards. Why can't they just talk about Dad? So what if she binges and then throws up? "Eating Disorder and Body Image Therapy Group" is awful. The counselor is an idiot; the other kids in the group are dweebs or even speds except for Ashley Barnum, the rich, the popular and the most perfect girl in Isabelle Lee's eighth grade class. Isabelle Lee hardly knows Ashley even though they are in the same class. Aren't they completely different from each other?

Subject Headings & Major Themes:

Body Image
Bulimia
Eating Disorders
Death
Fathers and Daughters
Friendship
Grief   

Awards & Reviews:
Milkweed Prize for Children's Literature, 2004
Children's Book Sense Picks, Winter 2005/2005

Gr. 6-9. Thirteen-year-old Isabelle Lee's family is reeling from the recent death of her beloved father when little sister April (aka Ape Face) finds Isabelle purging her dinner in the bathroom. Isabelle is sent to group therapy for her eating disorder, where she is shocked to discover that her school's most "perfect" and popular girl, Ashley Barnum, is also bulimic. Ashley is delighted to find a likeminded classmate, and she takes the previously unpopular Isabelle under her wing, inviting her to the exclusive lunch table and to sleepovers where they consume and then expel mountains of food. Isabelle's grief and anger are movingly and honestly portrayed, and her eventual empathy for her mother is believable and touching. Through Isabelle's wry tone and clear eye for hypocrisy, Friend elevates what could have been just another problem novel to a truly worthwhile read of great interest to many girls. Debbie Carton
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved.
--Booklist, January 15, 2005, p. 844

Reading 'Perfect' is mother-daughter time well spent.  
Chicago Journal, June 9, 2005

Thirteen-year-old Isabelle Lee is quietly mourning the recent sudden death of her father. Isabelle, her mother, and her younger sister, April all miss him desperately, but they can't seem to talk about him or even acknowledge the pain they all feel after his death: "You cry in your room. I cry in my room. Mom cries in Mom's room. And in the morning everyone pretends like they never cried once in their lives. Like, 'It's gonna be a great day, kids! Pass the orange juice!'"

For Isabelle, the bottled-up sadness about her dad's death manifests itself as she repeatedly binges and purges. When April discovers Isabelle's bulimia, she reports it to their mother, who signs up Isabelle for group therapy and then acts as if the problem can be solved through healthy diet and long bike rides.

Group is agonizing for Isabelle; she hates journaling, and she can't bring herself to talk about her dad's death in front of the other girls. Much to Isabelle's surprise, Ashley Barnum, the most perfect girl in the eighth grade, shows up at Group. It turns out that Ashley also has bulimia. At first, Isabelle revels in this new connection with Ashley, who had never noticed her before. The two of them go out for massive breakfasts and late-night sundaes and then throw up together (these binging and purging scenes are often described in graphic detail). Pretty soon, though, Isabelle realizes that Ashley's perfect life might not be so perfect after all and that Ashley's problems might be the result of her own complex family history.

PERFECT would be an excellent book for mothers and preteen/teen daughters to read together. The damaged relationship between Isabelle and her mother is a key element of the book, as is the acknowledgment that eating disorders are becoming problems for younger and younger girls. Above all, Natasha Friend's debut novel stresses the need to talk about problems, to bring them to the surface before they cause irreversible damage. PERFECT is the perfect book to get those conversations started.
-- KidsReads.com, http://www.kidsreads.com/reviews/1571316523.asp

Kirkus Reviews, October 15, 2004

"Middle school girls who have enjoyed Judy Blume . . . will appreciate the humor and the realism in Friend's novel. Recommended."
--Library Media Connection, March 2005

"Friend's subtle use of language, her delicate touch brought me tears and out-loud laughter."
--The Midwest Book Review, October 1, 2004

Natasha Friend's first novel is every thing a first novel should be. This short novel for teens in middle school tackles a tough subject for such a young age--that is, eating disorders. The protagonist, 13-year-old Isabelle, is trying to live her life the best she can. Her father died a couple of years ago and her mother, an English professor, is not handling her sorrow gracefully. The family can't talk about it and there seems to be no relief in sight. Isabelle deals with all the typical problems of a 13-year-old--the desire to be somebody else, the desire to be cool, the need for love and acceptance from both family and friends. Her descent into bulimia is an indication of the disorder in her life. It is not about body image as much as it is about grief. She misses her father desperately and needs to talk about it with her family but it just isn't happening. When her mother discovers the bulimia, Isabelle immediately begins group therapy and into her life walks perfect Ashley Barnum, the prettiest girl in school, smart, nice, everything Isabelle wishes she could be. For awhile, Ashley and Isabelle encourage one another's eating disorder until Isabelle begins to recognize some internal value in herself and that is when the changes begin.

This is a novel that is excellent for teen girls whether they have an eating disorder or not. All girls in this age range struggle with the same issues and will find in this book tools for coping. Friend's treatment of the subject is realistic, never cheesy even in its solution, funny, and just about perfect.
--NewPages.com, September 2004, http://www.newpages.com/bookreviews/archive/reviews/perfect.htm

Grade 6-9-Eighth-grader Isabelle Lee describes her not-so-perfect life. She is dealing with her father's death and her grieving mother by bingeing and purging. On the surface, everything is fine until Isabelle's younger sister catches her in the bathroom making herself throw up. "Eating Disorder and Body Image Therapy Group" is the consequence. Isabelle is amazed when she discovers that the most popular girl in her grade is also at the first session. Through encounters in Group and at school, she begins to realize that all is not fine, even for seemingly perfect people. As the book ends, she is not completely cured but is beginning to learn how to deal with her grief in a more positive way by journaling and talking about her feelings. Friend combines believable characters and real-life situations into a fine novel that addresses common adolescent issues. Teenagers, even reluctant readers, will find the outcome satisfying. -Denise Moore, O'Gorman Junior High School, Sioux Falls, SD
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
--School Library Journal, December 2004, p 146.

"This novel is a fairly quick-paced, absorbing story of one young woman's world."
VOYA: Voice of Youth Advocates, February 2005

Discussion Questions and Ideas:

  1. Have you heard the expression "there is an elephant in the living room that no one talks about?" There is more than one elephant in Isabelle Lee's living room. The big one is the grief and pain her family feels at the sudden death of her father. What are the other elephants?
  2. Isabelle Lee's friends have stopped being friends since her father's death. Why? Is that the way friends behave? Does the family seem isolated from the community?
  3. Isabelle looks forward to her aunt's visits. Why?
  4. Isabelle can't understand why her mother has taken down the pictures of her father. She can't understand her mother deep grief. Is it fair to expect a 13 year old to cope, more or less alone, with a grieving parent?  
  5. Isabelle thinks the counselor of the therapy group is a total loser. Is she?
  6. Isabelle hates journaling. Does it help her? How?
  7. The counselor points out to Isabelle that she should be proud of taking small steps in fighting her bulimia. Even the smallest step should be celebrated. How does that logic work? Or does it?
  8. At first, Isabelle can't understand how the perfect Ashley could have a problem like bulimia. After all, she is a popular girl and popular girls are completely different from real people like Isabelle. Right?
  9. What seems to be a reason for Ashley's bulimia? Is there more than one?
  10. Isabelle and Ashley get to know each other and binge and purge together.   Is this friendship?
  11. Isabelle and her family recover some joy by celebrating a holiday together as a family.   They seem to want to go on together. Does Ashley family do the same?
  12. Do you think that Ashley and Isabelle will be friends in the future?
  13. After reading what the counselor does in group therapy, is that a job you might want?

Related Websites:
Binge Eating Disorder - http://www.edauk.com/sub_what_are_binge.htm

'Coping with Loss, Bereavement and Grief" by the National Mental Health Association - http://www.nmha.org/infoctr/factsheets/42.cfm

Eating Disorder Association - http://www.edauk.com

Eating Disorders - http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/eatingdisorders.html

Natasha Friend's Website - http://natashafriend.com/natasha.html

TeenReads.com Interrview from March, 2005 - http://www.teenreads.com/authors/au-friend-natasha.asp

Read-a-Likes:
Flip Flop Girl by Katherine Patterson, 1994
Chasing Redbird by Sharon Creech, 1997
Stick Figure: A Diary of My Former Self by Lori Gottlieb, 2000 (A 2001 RITBA Nominee)
Jinx by Lori Gottlieb, 2002 (A 2004 RITBA Nominee)
More Than You Can Chew by Marnelle Tokio, 2003
How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff, 2004

| ©2004 - Rhode Island Teen Book Award Committee | Aaron Coutu, Chair