Book Review: Nothing Tastes As Good

Title: Nothing Tastes As Good

Author: Claire Hennessy

Genre: YA / Health – Mental Health / Eating Disorders

Pages: 336

Rating: ★★★☆☆

Annabel is dead – and she isn’t happy about it.

After anorexia causes her heart to fail, Annabel returns to earth as a ghostly helper. Her first assignment is to help Julia, her old classmate.

Julia is fat, and Annabel believes that her job is to help Julia by making her skinny. Afterall, skinny means happy, right?

As Annabel watches over Julia, she finds that there are many issues in her life, and during the highly pressured final year of school, Julia starts to let Annabel’s voice in. Annabel begins to guide Julia’s thoughts about her body and what she eats.

Things start to spiral dangerously out of control. Will Annabel realise – in time to save Julia – that there is more to happiness than being skinny?

Nothing Tastes As Good is a very uniquely written, raw, and moving story that looks at some of the pressures placed on women in today’s society.

This book drives home a clear message without being preachy. Not once did I feel as though I was having a message about eating disorders being slammed down my throat, but the point was taken nonetheless. I think this book will really appeal to a teen audience who may be engaging with some of these issues.

At first I was really annoyed, because I thought the whole story was just going to be about Julia being fat. But an issue with over-eating isn’t Julia’s only problem. She’s stressed about school, she’s the editor of the newspaper, her parents don’t pay her any attention, her friendships are falling apart, she’s in love with Gavin, and she has a somewhat murky past. Not to mention, she has a spirit guide following her around. There’s so much going on in this story and in Julia’s life, every page is filled with more and more drama – it’s a real page-turner.

Right from the start, it’s clear that Annabel is going to be a problem. She’s sassy, sarcastic and kinda rude.  To be honest, I didn’t like Annabel at all – until the end of the book – I thought she was a rather nasty girl. The truth is, even in death, Annabel still had a lot of issues to deal with. She wasn’t ready to believe that she’d had a problem with food. For her, anorexia wasn’t a disease – it was a lifestyle, and a way for her to take control of her body when the rest of her life was beyond her control.

I thought both Julia and Annabel were very strong female characters. They are both vibrant and interesting. Although Annabel is not always likeable (I hated the way she interacted with Julia for most of the novel and tried to make her feel bad about herself) her sarcasm adds humour to her sad story – she is obviously very frustrated about being dead. Julia is a great character; she is intelligent and passionate about journalism. She has a lot of ambition and a very shaky past that makes her a very three-dimensional person. She has quite a complex subplot that I won’t mention here because it would be a big spoiler, but I think it was very well-handled.

Annabel’s omniscient perspective adds a lot of detail. As a ghost/spirit guide, she can read both Julia’s and everyone else’s thoughts. I thought this concept was really interesting, because we got to hear what everyone was thinking at different points in time, which added quite a lot to the character development of some of the minor characters. Sometimes I wished that the perspective changed just between Annabel and Julia – at times I got a little sick of Annabel’s pissed-off-at-everything worldview.

I really enjoyed the overall experience of this book, but I do have one concern about it. Annabel’s perspective really got under my skin while I was reading this. Obviously, I understand that she is still dealing with a lot of issues, and that is the whole point, but I think that if you go to read this book then you should have a trigger warning; Annabel doesn’t realise that anorexia is a bad thing until towards the end of the book, which means that for three quarters of your reading experience you have to put up with her being quite nasty towards anyone who isn’t thin. If you feel like this might be upsetting or triggering for you, then I wouldn’t recommend reading this book. I think that Annabel is meant to represent the voice that a lot of us have in our head, the voice that says, ‘you’re not good enough’, but sometimes her nastiness is a bit of a downer. In the end, though, Annabel discovers that being skinny isn’t all there is to life, but it’s a long road for her to get to this epiphany.

Overall, Nothing Tastes As Good is a really captivating and exciting read. There are a lot of ups-and-downs and some great characters who you really start to care for. The topic is pretty weighty but is dealt with in an upbeat way that makes this story both humorous and fun to read. Just watch out for Annabel… she’s pretty nasty, but I guess you shouldn’t really listen to a dead girl anyway.

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