Title: The Appetites of Girls
Author: Pamela Moses
No. of Pages: 384
Origins: Amy Einhorn Books/Putnam
Release Date: 26 June 2014
Bottom Line: Great characters and even better message
“Self-doubting Ruth is coddled by her immigrant mother, who uses food to soothe and control. Defiant Francesca believes her heavy frame shames her Park Avenue society mother and, to provoke her, consumes everything in sight. Lonely Opal longs to be included in her glamorous mother’s dinner dates—until a disturbing encounter forever changes her desires. Finally, Setsu, a promising violinist, staves off conflict with her jealous brother by allowing him to take the choicest morsels from her plate—and from her future. College brings the four young women together as suitemates, where their stories and appetites collide. Here they make a pact to maintain their friendships into adulthood, but each must first find strength and her own way in the world.”
Thoughts: It does not take a great stretch of the imagination to recognize the fact that Ruth, Francesca, Opal, and Setsu are a microcosm of women around the world. As a result though, the themes of the novel will hit readers hard. Even male readers will find something upsetting about the way food, and consequently body image, becomes an obsession for the girls. Ms. Moses exquisitely captures the pressure to conform and the myriad of feelings attempting to do so can cause. If anything, if men wonder why women can be a little crazy at times, all they need to do is read The Appetites of Girls and understand the strain such expectations can cause.
Thankfully, Ms. Moses expands her theme to include not just those stuck in a perpetual weight loss cycle. She also includes those who use food as a method of rebellion. It is as dangerous an obsession as counting calories can become as it turns food into a weapon. Every bite taken or ignored is a statement against conformance as well as a method of control. It is also how eating disorders tend to start.
While much of The Appetites of Girls does discuss each of the girl’s relationships with and attitudes towards food, the novel itself is not just about body image. For, attitudes about love and sex and their own self-worth are every bit a part of the learning curve for the four roommates as learning to feel comfortable with food. It is another timely lesson in female thought processes and the common struggles they face.
The fact that the four girls come from varied backgrounds and must deal with different aspects of these struggles helps readers connect to the story at large. One may not have the same childhood experiences as any or all of the characters, but it is still easy to see oneself in each of the girls. All of them are real, fragile, and thoroughly empathetic, adding poignancy to the story that just does not exist without relating to them.
The Appetites of Girls is the type of novel that holds a mirror up in front of a reader. It challenges readers to recognize certain characteristics and attitudes of the girls as their own. The story though is not all about self-examination as it also is a biting commentary on the pressure society puts on women to look and act according to arbitrarily chosen ideals. That the girls are able to break away from this pressure is only half the battle, as it is then up to the readers of this wonderful story to continue their growth.