Title: The Girls at 17 Swann Street by Yara Zgheib
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Publication day: Feb 5, 2019
In a nutshell (Publisher):
Yara Zgheib’s poetic and poignant debut novel is a haunting portrait of a young woman’s struggle with anorexia on an intimate journey to reclaim her life.
The chocolate went first, then the cheese, the fries, the ice cream. The bread was more difficult, but if she could just lose a little more weight, perhaps she would make the soloists’ list. Perhaps if she were lighter, danced better, tried harder, she would be good enough. Perhaps if she just ran for one more mile, lost just one more pound.
Anna Roux was a professional dancer who followed the man of her dreams from Paris to Missouri. There, alone with her biggest fears – imperfection, failure, loneliness – she spirals down anorexia and depression till she weighs a mere eighty-eight pounds. Forced to seek treatment, she is admitted as a patient at 17 Swann Street, a peach pink house where pale, fragile women with life-threatening eating disorders live. Women like Emm, the veteran; quiet Valerie; Julia, always hungry. Together, they must fight their diseases and face six meals a day.
Every bite causes anxiety. Every flavor induces guilt. And every step Anna takes toward recovery will require strength, endurance, and the support of the girls at 17 Swann Street.
It’s hard to best describe this book. But I’d start with powerful, painful, raw and real.
Anna, a French ballet dancer got injured and moved from Paris to U.S. with her husband. Here, she was diagnosed with aneroxia and entered a treatment facility.
17 Swann Street is where Anna met the other girls who later not only became her friends, but also her most loyal cheerleaders who stood by her as she fought the disease.
It was disturbing and uncomfortable getting to be so up close with an aneroxic. It felt as though I was reading a memoir.
I cried ugly tears feeling the girls’ struggles, frustrations, confusion, and pain. I felt every fibre of Anna’s being trying to face and fight the demon.
“The anticipation that had been gnawing at my stomach has developed into pain. The acrid fear (of eating) now grates throughout my insides; the result is corrosive and hot.”
And when it was time to eat, she kept fighting that urge to eat – “This is it: You will eat whatever is put on your plate, I was told. But I cannot. I am not a quitter, but I cannot do this. I cannot breath. I cannot breathe.”
Her mind and body were in constant fight against each other – to eat or not to eat; to fight or flee. It was exhausting. It sometimes felt hopeless and the torture, never-ending. She felt the whole world was against her. She thought she should be the one to decide what and when to eat, because she knew her body best, and not some nutritionist at a treatment centre.
Eating was out of habit for her. Eating wasn’t good for her body. Just the thought of it made her hyperventilate. When she was told to eat yogurt, crackers, bagel and cream cheese, “My body is screaming: Not all at once!” At the same time, she had to eat them as required by the nutritionist. She fought to quieten her mind, and told herself to take one bite at a time, “One more bite. And another, and another after that.”
But the love and support that surrounded her – from the girls at Swann Street to her boyfriend Matthias and her dad, helped strengthened her and motivated her towards recovery – her boyfriend, despite Anna’s attempts to try to build a wall between them, came back to her time and time again, proving his love and loyalty; her papa, despite not understanding what she was going through, never gave up on her, and the friendship that developed and grew between her and the girls at Swann Street proved to be stronger than the relationship she had with the disease.
I urge all females to read this book – moms and daughters. And dads! And boyfriends! In fact, everyone. It is a difficult heartbreaking read, but an important one. Read it.
This is definitely a 5* read for me.
*Quotes included here are from an advanced readers copy and are subject to change upon final publication.
Have you read this book? What did you think of it? If not, do you plan to read it? Or have you read something like it? Please do share with me your thoughts!
Till then, HAPPY READING!