Fourteen-year-old Max Howarth is living with anorexia. With the help of his therapist and his supportive, but flawed, family, he's trying his best to maintain his health. But things spiral out of control, and his eating disorder threatens to isolate him from everyone he loves. Beautifully crafted and honestly written, this debut YA novel tells the story of one boy's year-long journey toward recovery.
* "The raw and real portrayal of anorexia from a group often left out of the conversation." Kirkus Reviews, STARRED Review
* "[A] no-holds-barred debut novel based on the author's own experiences as a tween will be a significant addition to any library." Booklist, STARRED Review
In most ways, Max is like any other teenager. He's dealing with family drama, crushes, and high school-all while trying to have fun, play video games, and explore his hobbies. But Max is also living with anorexia and finds it impossible to be honest with his loved ones-they just don't understand what he's going through.
Starting at Christmas, a series of triggering events disrupt Max's progress toward recovery, sending him down a year-long spiral of self-doubt and dangerous setbacks. With no one to turn to, Max journals his innermost thoughts and feelings, writing to "Ana," the name he's given his anorexia. While that helps for a while, Ana's negative voice grows, amplifying his fears.
When Max gets an unusual present from his older brother, a geocache, it becomes a welcome distraction from his problems. He hides it in the forest near their house and soon gets a message from the mysterious "E." Although Max is unsure of the secret writer's identity, they build a bond, and it's comforting to finally have someone to confide in.As Max's eating disorder pulls him further away from his family and friends, this connection keeps him going, leading him back to the people who love and support him.
Writing from his own experiences with anorexia, Samuel Pollen's The Year I Didn't Eat is a powerful and uplifting story about recovery and the connections that heal us.
For 14-year-old bird enthusiast Max Howarth, life is a challenge not only because he has family issues but also because he's anorexic. He thinks about food 16 hours a day, and despite all the knowledge he has about his illness, its grip grows increasingly tighter. His journal-addressed to "Ana," whose voice taunts him at every turn-is filled with his most intimate feelings about himself and the people and events in his life. Max's journal entries alternate with the narrative and teem with questions and emotions he can't otherwise express. One devastating emotion he wrestles with is loss. He feels his eating disorder is alienating him from his best friends. He also blames himself when his older brother moves out of the house and his parents' relationship shows signs of crumbling. It takes the attention of a new classmate, Evie, to bring Max's spiraling situation into focus and force him to decide to save his life. Max is a thoughtful, appealing narrator to whom readers will relate, and his story brings attention to an illness most commonly associated with girls and older teens or adults. This no-holds-barred debut novel based on the author's own experiences as a tween will be a significant addition to any library's middle-grade or teen collection.
– Booklist, STARRED REVIEW
Max Howarth is a 14-year-old high schooler with anorexia nervosa. Max lives in a small town in the west of England with his parents and his 21-year-old brother, Robin, an enthusiastic outdoorsman. About a year ago Max developed anorexia. His parents aren't sure how to help, but Robin cracks jokes and smooths over awkward situations. Robin also introduces Max to geocaching at Christmas, when the story opens. Max's two friends, Stu and Ram, know nothing about his anorexia because Max doesn't think they could possibly understand. He isn't honest with his therapist either, instead writing letters (interspersed throughout) in his secret journal to "Ana" (short for anorexia), telling "her" how she makes him feel. When his mother finds his journal, a terrified Max hides it in his geocache. When he returns for it he finds it's no longer there. In its place is a letter of personal confessions from "E," who he believes is Evie, the new girl at school. But is it? Pollen writes from the inside about anorexia, effectively communicating the feelings, obsessions, and difficulties Max experiences and making it clear that it is an equal-opportunity disorder. Ana's scornful voice frequently breaks into Max's narration, a device that combines with his meticulous calorie counting to place readers in his head. The book is default white, with nonwhite ethnicity primarily conveyed through naming convention; Ram is Muslim. A concluding author's note provides encouragement. Readers will appreciate the raw and real portrayal of anorexia from a group often left out of the conversation.
– Kirkus Reviews, STARRED REVIEW
Fourteen-year-old Max's life is a constant challenge. To cope with his overwhelming need to control his diet, he shares his feelings in a journal addressed to his anorexia, which he calls "Ana." After his mother finds the journal, Max panics and hides the pages in a geocache his brother built for him. When he goes to retrieve them days later, he finds a response from "E" instead, and the two of them begin exchanging letters. Max deals with bullying issues, a weird new girl at school whom he just might like, and his parents' strained marriage, but he never goes more than a page without being confronted by his pervasive eating disorder. From meal planning to changing for gym class to navigating appointments with his therapist, Max's emotional experiences and thoughts are brought to life to readers every step of the way. His illness is in no way glamorized-Max hates the disorder and wishes more than anything not to have this issue-and none of the passages could be mistaken for a how-to manual. Max's voice is authentic and relatable. The hopeful resolution and Max's recovery are not oversimplified or glossed over, and learning the identity of "E" is surprising and rewarding.