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Reading Rainbow —

December 13, 2013

Weight LossFat HealthExerciseEating DisordersDiet Talk

Note: I received review copies of all three books I review today.

So, our blogging team discussed doing another 12 Days of Fatmas celebration like we did last year, but we only came up with 8 of 12 gift ideas, so some of our ideas will be popping up between now and the Winter Solstice to help you find the perfect gift for the fatty in your life.

I have been sitting on three books that I’m excited to share with you all that I think will make great gifts this holiday season. These books by fatties, for fatties and/or about fatties, and all three would make an excellent addition to your libraries and lives.

Viral Nation

First and foremost, the dystopian novel by our very own Fierce Fatty, Shaunta Grimes. This isn’t Shaunta’s first fiction book, but it is her first to catch the attention of a big publishing house, Viral NationBerkley Trade. Viral Nation (available on paperback and Kindle) follows the lives of the Donovan family after a devastating virus wipes out the global population. The story begins as James Donovan watches his young son, West, and his wife, Jane, writhe in pain from the developing sores. With little hope, James resigns himself to the mercy killing he must perform in order to save his newborn daughter, Clover.

Shortly after injecting his wife with the syringe that takes her life, a visitor informs James that a suppressant has been discovered. Although West survives, he will be just as scarred physically as James is emotionally and psychologically.

Fast forward 16 years later. James is an executioner for The Company, which developed the suppressant. As a result, he lives apart from his children, West and Clover, who occupy the family home in the walled-off city of Reno, Nevada by themselves. West has practically raised Clover himself, even going so far as to turn down his chance to attend the prestigious Academy, where he would be trained to join The Company.

But this story revolves largely around Clover, an autistic young woman whose most faithful companion beside her brother is Mango the dog, who is trained to help Clover maintain her composure when her autism interrupts life. Clover prepares to attend the Academy, but problems with asshole classmates results in her being kept out of the Academy. Instead, Clover is put on the fast-track to becoming a Time Mariner.

At the bottom of Lake Tahoe, a man named Ned Waverly discovers a time portal that sends him two years into the future, when the suppressant has already been discovered. As a result, Waverly brings the suppressant back two years and saves countless lives in the process. Now, Time Mariners use the portal to retrieve messages from the future to aid in rebuilding the past, but also to prevent crimes before they happen.

With the help of the portal, The Company is able to issue warrants for crimes that have yet to occur, allowing them to execute murderers before they’ve had a chance to kill. The citizens of Reno, including Clover, appreciate the impact this has on violent crime in the city, until one day she finds out that her brother West is going to be implicated in a murder in the near future.

As Clover navigates her role as a Time Mariner, she must try to save her brother from his impending execution. Along the way, she discovers there are more secrets that The Company is hiding from the citizens of Reno, and the more Clover learns, the more she begins to embrace the calls for revolution from a group known as the Freaks.

Viral Nation is a gripping thriller that drags you from revelation to revelation, all the while seeing the world through the eyes of someone with autism. Aside from the engrossing storyline, I was engrossed by Clover’s perspective. Autism is a huge subject of interest these days, but Grimes (whose son is autistic) shines a light on this subject in a way that advocates for understanding of a complicated psychological and biological issue.

And then there are the questions Grimes raises. What is justice? What is security? What is fairness? As Clover slowly transforms from cog in the machine to a monkey wrench in the works, she reveals the lengths to which some will go to establish and maintain their power. She also meets the true victims of The Company’s plan for peace and order within the city walls, both in Reno and the remaining cities that it controls.

You’ll fall in love with Clover immediately and enjoy the complex relationship she has with her brother, and pretty much everyone else she comes in contact with. The unwinding plot will seize your imagination and keep you reading each heart-pounding chapter until the end, when we’re left holding our breath for Clover and the Freaks. This is a great novel that will someday make a great movie, I’m sure. A must-read for young adults and beyond.

Fatropolis: A Novel

One of my favorite conventions in the superhero genre is the Bizarro World, where all the good guys are bad guys and vice versa. In Bizarro World, Superman hates people and has a wicked goatee, while Lex Luthor is a selfless humanitarian defending the world from the Man of Evil Steel.Fatropolis

An interesting thought experiment is to imagine what this world would be like if roles were reversed and thin people had spent the past half century enduring body shaming and unhealthy diet plans, while fat people were celebrated in every conceivable media outlet and their bodies were held up as the paragon of health and virtue.

In Tracey Thompson’s debut novel, Fatropolis, (available on paperback and Kindle) Jenny Crandall stumbles through a mysterious portal in a changing room wall that leads her to this exact Bizarro World where fatties reign supreme and skinnies are disgusting pariahs.

This is not to say that Body Acceptance is about reversing roles any more than feminism is about reversing the power roles for men. But sometimes it takes a change of perspective to see the harm that privilege and power has over the spoiled identities it affects.

Through the lens of a stranger in a strange land, Jenny navigates a world of fat actors and actresses, fat crooners, fat fashion and fat celebrations. While she feels ostracized and lonely in our world, enduring the negative attention of coworkers who cluck their tongues at her plate, Jenny finds acceptance in a world where being thin is cause for shame and self-consciousness.

I often hear thin people criticize Fat Acceptance for not pointing out that thin people are often told to “eat up” but Fatropolis shows what it would be like if that kind of body shaming took place with the frequency, intensity and moral righteousness that fat people currently face. Although thin people may hear “eat a sandwich” from a nosy relative, there aren’t entire stores dedicated to fattening up thin people and thin people aren’t urged to change their bodies to suit an ideal. In Fatropolis, they are.

There’s also the issue of accommodations, where Jenny is accustomed to a dearth of plus-sized clothing options, Fatropolis provides access to fashions she would never find in the “real world.” The same with cars that are just right for a broad behind and booths at restaurants that don’t crush her midriff. Of course, that means that the thin inhabitants of Fatropolis are less comfortable and have less options, making life more difficult for them.

In this environment, Jenny’s self-confidence blooms and, finally able to feel comfortable in her own skin, she begins to accept herself. This is the best part of the novel, in my opinion: watching Jenny change from self-loathing to self-loving during her stay in Fatropolis. It’s a transformation similar to that experienced when someone finds the Fat Acceptance movement, but faster, given the accepting world in which she suddenly finds herself.

During her stay, Jenny meets and falls in love with Argus, a thin man who has spent his whole life trying to “fatten up.” Jenny finds herself in an unusual situation as she explains to Argus how thin and fat people are treated in her world. For once, Jenny is the one explaining the importance of self-acceptance and being kind to yourself.

While in Fatropolis, Jenny stumbles upon a bakery that doubles as a boarding house run by the warm and kind Irish lass, Dotty. As Jenny befriends the other boarders and explores Fatropolis, she must make a choice whether to stay in this world of acceptance and tolerance, or return to the “real world” with its perpetual shaming and discomfort. She also discovers that Dotty may know more about Jenny’s world than she first lets on.

Fatropolis delves into a fantasy where fat people have no need for “Fat Acceptance” because they are already accepted as they are. Thompson weaves a fun, thoughtful tale that puts our own struggle for acceptance into stark relief. It’s great escapism for those who may feel overwhelmed by the judgements and insults we must endure on a daily basis and I highly recommend it.

Healthy Bodies: Teaching Kids What They Need to Know

Although this is a work of nonfiction, I can’t recommend Healthy Healthy BodiesBodies (available in paperback) enough. Author Kathy Kater is a Clinical Social Work/Therapist with over 25 years of helping adolescents and adults overcome their struggles with body image, eating, fitness and weight concerns. She’s also a vigorous proponent of Health at Every Size®  (HAES) and has developed a curriculum aimed at middle school-aged kids.

Right now, the War on Fat means that schools are focusing on making their heavier students lighter. Period. End of story.

Kater takes aim at the subject of weight and goes right to the root of the problem: our culture.

First published in conjunction with the National Eating Disorder Association in 1998, this third edition helps young adults understand the harms of weight stigma, eating disorders and the media’s obsession with thinness. Healthy Bodies is full of detailed and deeply sourced information for teachers to understand the subjects Kater explores, then follows it up with interesting, engaging teaching plans and materials that will help kids learn the importance of self-acceptance AND self-care.

There is no shaming in this book, only an emphasis on how eating a healthy diet and getting plenty of exercise is healthy for ALL kids, not just the ones we’ve decided need a special intervention. But even more important than this message is the way Kater teaches kids about the unrealistic expectations that saturate our media. Now, more than ever, our kids should be taught media literacy and to recognize negative messages so that they don’t internalize superficial, unhealthy ideals.

Our kids are already media savvy and they’re exposed to so many influences that they need to be having the conversations that Kater will spark with the stories and discussion topics she has developed through her education and experience surrounding the complex world of adolescent physical and mental health.

Healthy Bodies is an excellent companion piece to Ellyn Satter’s Your Child’s Weight: Helping Without Harming (which I reviewed a few years back here), and it would make an excellent gift for the teacher in your life or for any parent who is concerned about the way their school is handling this issue. It’s comprehensive, informative and highly persuasive.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. Calantheliadon permalink
    December 14, 2013 12:43 am

    I am a proud owner of “The Devil You Don’t” by Shaunta Grimes, and my enjoyment of it was a big reason why I purchased “Viral Nation” shortly after it came out. If you know a smart reader who likes fiction about dystopian societies (the “Hunger Games” trilogy springs to mind), “Viral Nation” would be a great gift. I cant’ wait for the next installment!

    I am definitely going to have to give “Fatropolis” a read,

  2. December 14, 2013 1:46 pm

    Thanks for including Fatropolis in your recommendations! As the book’s publisher, it’s gratifying to see a reviewer “get” the concept as well as enjoy the adventure. I’ve been a fan of Kathy Kater’s work for a long time, and have been meaning to check into Shaunta Grimes’s novel — your review/recommendation is a welcome nudge/reminder to do so. Happy Holidays and fierce freethinking fattiness to all!

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