Monday, February 11, 2013

Book Review: Underneath The Flesh: My life as a Morbid Obesity Sufferer and a Compulsive Overeater

We've been snowed in for the past couple of days, which has given me plenty of time to write and read some new books. I just finished reading Alexandra Gallagher-Mearns' very compelling memoir Underneath The Flesh: My life as a Morbid Obesity Sufferer and a Compulsive Overeater.

Though I usually review Young Adult and Middle Grade stories on this blog, I decided to review this particular book simply because I've written so much about plus-sized heroines. I love my fictional characters Melinda and Sadie, but the Scottish Gallagher-Mearns is a real-life inspiration, who's survived abuse and tragedy, and lost half her body weight with surgery.

I'm going to be very honest: this is not a particularly well-written book. It's coherent and easy enough to read, but her voice is very matter-of-fact and she often repeats herself. She simply lays out her story, "This happened, this happened and I felt this," but doesn't really set the scene. It reads very much like someone telling you about her life at a bar. In other words, the author gets her story across, but isn't much of a story teller; her words don't have that extra "oomph" that makes a book -- and yes, even a memoir, special.

Gallagher-Mearns also has an annoying habit of "bleeping" out the swear words, i.e. writing "a**e" instead of "arse" or "s***e" instead of "shite." I sometimes censor my swear words on this blog because I never know if a kid may stumble across it, but she had dozens of these bleeped-out words on every page. If you're going to curse, just do it! Covering half the word doesn't make you any more polite because we know what the word is.

Anyway, though I didn't think that the book was a great read, I still think that Gallagher-Mearns is an amazing woman and has quite a story to share. She and her sister lost their mother when they were very young and grew up in a home with their abusive, alcoholic father. The author had to endure this for years until she was able to get out on her own, but by then, was so beaten down (literally and figuratively) that she suffered multiple mental breaks. Meanwhile, she'd turned to food for comfort -- and had ballooned up to 28 stone (about 392 pounds).

After spending years in therapy, the author got a gastric bypass -- but this was only the beginning of her recovery. She still had to deal with her addiction to food and her issues with self-esteem, and quickly learned that being thin wouldn't solve her problems. She slowly figured out how to be an adult and how to love, and eventually created a loving family of her own.

To me, the author is a hero, not because she lost weight (some people think that getting a gastric bypass is "cheating"; I think it's up to the individual to decide what's best for herself) but because she's such a survivor. There were numerous times when she considered giving up, but she kept pushing forward and was determined to make a life for herself. She didn't let her weight prevent her from fighting and ultimately became a stronger person.

Though the book doesn't really end on a happy note, it's at least hopeful -- and I really do hope that she's doing well. Her tale inspired me and reminded me that it's never too late to improve your life.

Overall, I rate it 3 1/2 stars. It's definitely worth checking out, especially if you're going through a tough time and want some positive inspiration.

Meantime, please read and review my novel REVENGE OF A BAND GEEK GONE BAD.

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