SUMMARY: Sixteen-year old Ann is sick of being a size 17. She’s tried many crash diets over the years, but if anything, she ultimately ends up gaining more weight than she loses. But this time will be different. She absolutely has to lose 45 pounds before her aunt’s wedding in two months. After seeing an infomercial, Ann secretly purchases a “diet system,” complete with meals, a workout DVD, and diet supplements. She’s convinced this time, she’ll lose that weight…for good.
REVIEW: 45 Pounds reminds me so much of Donna Cooner’s Skinny, where an overweight teen girl undergoes gastric bypass surgery to lose over 100 pounds. Ann doesn’t go nearly that far, but she puts her own health into jeopardy with the weight loss system she buys. There is a light touch of romance, but that’s not the main story here.
I have a soft spot for books about fat girls trying to lose weight. Among my favorite books when I was in middle school were Lila Perl’s Me and Fat Glenda and Hey, Remember Fat Glenda?, and Danziger’s The Cat Ate My Gymsuit. As a chunky middle schooler, I identified with the girls in these books; they felt like friends tackling the same problem I had. They helped me see that I wasn’t alone. For better or for worse, I got to see how they handled their weight struggles, how they dealt with being a fat girl in a skinny world.
While “fat chick” books have always struck a chord with me, I loved 45 Pounds for some very unexpected reasons. This is not one of those books where the overweight heroine makes fun of her weight while secretly wishing she were thinner. Unlike the girls in many other “overweight” books, Ann has no friends to joke around with. Her family is (sadly) normal, but they are a mess. While they love each other, they struggle to communicate. Because they don’t communicate, they don’t understand each other. Instead of “having it out” with their family members, they hold everything inside and slam doors or mutter under their breath. Ann tries so hard to keep the peace that, though she knows she’s the largest person in the room, she feels like no one really sees her.
I love the way Barson handles Ann’s weight realistically and with sensitivity. Ann knows she is fat. She knows she should not eat so much, but, as she says many times, she feels out of control around food. In fact, Ann’s life is out of control. Barson handles Ann’s messy family life sensitively. No one in Ann’s family is intentionally mean or wants Ann to feel bad; they really don’t even realize or understand their own role in Ann’s weight gain. I love that they are real people, not bad people.
My favorite thing about 45 Pounds is its tone. Eating disorders and family tension are serious matters, but 45 Pounds is not at all depressing. Ann may be sad at times, but she also has plenty of happy moments. The book is never preachy about weight and takes time to explore some of the real reasons Ann gained weight. I am not overweight (anymore), but 45 Pounds really made me think about why I eat what I eat and how I, too, could make better nutrition choices.
WHAT I DIDN’T LIKE: If I had to say one thing I didn’t like, it would be the way the men in the book didn’t seem to worry about their food intake at all. It felt like they got off too easy. I see as many fat men as women, but I felt like 45 Pounds made weight and appearance a “female only” problem. For example, Ann’s little sister Liberty is hyper-aware of Ann’s and their mother’s unhealthy attitudes toward food. She mimics them and pays close attention to their eating habits. She refuses to eat as a way to manipulate her mother. But Liberty’s twin brother Justice does not appear to notice anything. He eats whatever he wants, as much as he wants, and no one bats an eyelash. He observes the same family behaviors as Liberty, but none of it gets to him at all. Ditto for their father (Ann’s stepfather), Ann’s biological father, and her older brother Tony. Ditto all other men and boys in the story. Their weight is never mentioned; they eat whatever junk they want to. It would have been nice if at least one male struggled the way Ann, Liberty, and their mother do.
THE BOTTOM LINE: 45 Pounds explores weight gain and loss sensitively and realistically. With vivid characters readers will root for, 45 Pounds is a page-turner I won’t soon forget.
STATUS IN MY LIBRARY: It’s out in July, and I plan to get it for the library. I may even add it as one of my Lone Star Plus choices for our school next year.
READALIKES: Skinny (Cooner); Fat Cat (Brande)
- Overall: 5/5
- Creativity: 5/5
- Characters: 5/5–can I give Ann a 6/5?
- Engrossing: 5/5
- Writing: 5/5
- Appeal to teens: 4/5
- Appropriate length to tell the story: 5/5
- Language: mild; repeated use of the term “fat ass”
- Sexuality: mild; the aunt marries her long-time girlfriend (a major part of the story)
- Violence: none
- Drugs/Alcohol: mild; Ann’s grandmother chain smokes, Ann takes diet pills (both are portrayed as unhealthy and a bad idea)