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Review: Elena Vanishing by Elena Dunkle and Claire Dunkle

About the Book

Seventeen-year-old Elena is vanishing. Every day means renewed determination, so every day means fewer calories. This is the story of a girl whose armor against anxiety becomes artillery against herself as she battles on both sides of a lose-lose war in a struggle with anorexia. Told entirely from Elena's perspective over a five-year period and cowritten with her mother, award-winning author Clare B. Dunkle, Elena's memoir is a fascinating and intimate look at a deadly disease, and a must read for anyone who knows someone suffering from an eating disorder.

Review

Elena Vanishing is an exceptional book. I personally have never had any sort of issue with eating disorders, so this book was a truly enlightening experience. Society's idea that eating disorders are just stubborn attempts at weight loss is both false and incredibly insensitive to the realities of those fighting these difficult battles. Elena Vanishing is one woman's telling of this battle.

Elena starts as a teenager whose perfectionism is nothing short of obsessive. She eventually finds herself in the hospital, fighting a sudden heart problem and also fighting off psychiatrists wishing to pronounce her a full on anorexic. One of the worst parts of this section is when she glorifies anorexia, saying she wishes she was to that level. It goes to show how deeply affected she is by this disorder.

She goes through a couple of hospital stays, eating disorder center stays, and a couple of tumultuous years in college and eventually realizes what it is that she's truly fighting back down by using an eating disorder to distract her. This novel is a trip for both readers and Elena alike, picking a part the human mind to better understand its sometimes illogical reactions to trauma. 

She makes friends throughout her story. Some are great support, others bring her down to the edge of life and death. Her relationship with her family is difficult, but most definitely filled with equal parts love and frustration. Some of those most difficult moments in this book involve the anorexic friends she makes at recovery centers and the different hands that life deals them. 

Elena is frustratingly willful and at times difficult to relate to, as she goes such extreme lengths to bar herself from eating. At other times, though, she is vulnerable and afraid and readers finally get to understand that Elena's struggle is very human and very difficult to cope with. You root for her, pleading in your head that she will just eat, just stop all of this self harm, but that does not always come. It is not a memoir for the fainthearted, but it is one for readers who wish to get one take on the damage that eating disorders can cause and what causes them.

One of the strongest aspects of this memoir is the powerful use of Elena's critical internal voice. Throughout the book you hear her tell herself "You're obese!" "They're laughing at you." "You're pathetic!" and sometimes in grosser terms. This, I imagine, is a particularly effective way of really explaining the kind of mental turmoil someone with anorexia battles with constantly. There are moments of her listening to this voice and toward the end of the novel, finally pushing them away and realizing their harm. 

If you're interested in reading a memoir that takes the reader along with smooth, easily read diction, a story of sadness and quiet triumph, and a protagonist that has you pulling out your hair in frustration and laughing at her most human moments, this is the choice for you.

Reviewed by Amy Richardson

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