⇒I am so excited to join the blog tour for The Girls at 17 Swann Street by Yara Zgheib. What a great way to mark the very first blog tour for That New Book Smell! ⇐
Author: Yara Zgheib
(4.08 stars – Goodreads rating)
Genre: Contemporary Adult Fiction
Publish Date: February 5, 2019
#TheGirlsat17SwannStreet #Girlsat17SwannStreet #17SwannStreet
They look androgynous, their skin hanging in loose pockets around fragile frames. Not women; women have bodies, sex, lives, dinner, families. The patients in this room are girls with eyes that are too big.
In middle school, the health teacher crowded us into a room, pulled down the well-worn screen at the front, cut the lights off and turned on the projector (yes, the projector!). The class was giggling with nervousness – expecting more gross-out pics of genital warts or scabies; health class gave us conversation fodder for weeks!
Instead, what we saw was an educational film on the types of eating disorders, their symptoms, and treatments. Almost from the first pictures the room was silent. No giggling. No whispering. No side-comments of any kind. The pictures were arresting. And horrifying. And sad. I remember that health class and its impact on me. I was skinny back then and could eat anything I wanted without repercussions (oh, the days!). It never occurred to me that there were people who saw themselves as overweight even when they were far from it, and that eating disorders were about so much more than eating.
I am not undernourished. I am starved for a meal I would not have to eat alone. For someone to love me and tell me that I am more than enough, as I am.
The Girls at 17 Swann Street is a diligent and careful representation of one young woman’s struggle through anorexia nervosa. Anna Roux moves to the United States from Paris with her husband, Matthias, and faces a new life in a new place without the familiarity of family, friends, and her budding career as a ballerina. As Anna attempts to find a place for herself in this new life, anorexia beckons her into what will eventually become a fight for any life at all.
Here’s the book cover blurb: 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 into 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, who is 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.
I was ambitious once. I was a dancer, a dreamer. I was loved. I was in love, I loved life. I once had books to read and places to see, babies I wanted to make. I want to want those again.
I have never struggled with an eating disorder. I do love bread and eat far too many sweets. My BMI is no where near where it should be, but the doctor says I’m average for my age just as long as I watch my cholesterol (always something). Often, I read this book while I was chomping on cheesy slices of pizza, morning fritters, or afternoon chips n’ dip – trust me, the irony was never lost on me.
But what Yara Zgheib has done with this book is made anorexia less like those scary pictures in the health film from middle school. She gave the disease a human name, and a face, and a heart. Anna is “anywoman”, with circumstances that lead to a life event that she feels she has no control over. And that could happen to anyone.
Sure, there are several reasons behind Anna’s descent into the disease; Zgheib comments on them (pressures from ballet and a bad boyfriend, loneliness), but she doesn’t turn them into excuses for Anna’s condition. She highlights, instead, Anna’s inner demons dealing with anorexia and how it affects every part of her life, and the lives of those she loves.
This is a very personal story, and you see that even through the writing style and format of the book. The dialogue is written in italics– the way inner thoughts are treated in other books. This is Anna’s story; this is Anna processing her own journey, and we are silent spectators whispering, “Keep walking, Anna. Keep walking.”
The world around me is obese, half of it. The other half is emaciated… Standards come in doubles, so do portions. The world is overcrowded but lonely. My anorexia keeps me company, comforts me. I can control it, so I choose it.
If I had had the time during my busy days to read this all in one sitting, I would have done so. It is an instantly absorbing read with thoughtful introspection into a disorder that is so easily misunderstood.
Readers will appreciate that Zgheib doesn’t make Anna into a hero or a martyr. She is so realistic in her triumphs and failures, and that makes her not pitiable, but identifiable.
How sad, the power of a piece of cream cheese.
The Girls at 17 Swann Street is about more than eating disorders. It is about making positive decisions to change and about the value of the people who support us in those decisions. It is about choosing to live your best life and celebrating all the tiny little reasons that it’s important to do so.
This is my first 5-star read of 2019, and I highly recommend it. It doesn’t feel good while you’re reading it, but with each pound lost and gained, I felt that I learned more about myself and my own journey in life.
The Girls at 17 Swann Street will be released on February 5th, 2019! I am just one stop on the blog tour, which runs February 1st – 10th.
Buy it here:
Yara Zgheib is a Fulbright scholar with a Masters degree in Security Studies from Georgetown University and a Ph.D. in International Affairs in Diplomacy from Centre D’études Diplomatiques et Stratégiques in Paris. She is fluent in English, Arabic, French, and Spanish. Yara is a writer for several US and European magazines, including The Huffington Post, The Four Seasons Magazine, A Woman’s Paris, The Idea List, and Holiday Magazine. She writes on culture, art, travel, and philosophy on her blog, “Aristotle at Afternoon Tea”