Synopsis (taken from Goodreads):
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 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, always hungry. Together, they must fight their diseases and face six meals a day.
“I am not anorexic. I am out of control. I know it but I cannot stop. I am a child in a body that grew up too soon, found adulthood and real life a scam, and now is trying to lose enough weight to lift off the ground, fly away.”
“The Girls at 17 Swann Street,” reads like a memoir and it’s hard to believe that this is a work of fiction. Zgheib’s writing really shows the reader what it’s like inside the mind of someone who is struggling with this awful disorder. Anna’s thoughts are so raw and powerful. At times, they are difficult to read.
“I understand her anorexia more than she knows, wings banging on the inside of a cage. But I say nothing; she does not want my understanding. She wants quiet and to grieve.”
When I was in high school, I remember learning about anorexia as well as other eating disorders. There seemed to be a lot of misinformation going around. It was often assumed that people who had anorexia were just superficial girls (mostly) who only wanted to be skinny so that they could be more attractive. But I learned that it was never that simple. I remember reading about other people who were battling the disorder, how they had a desire for control over their lives. How food was the only way they could gain back that control.
“You can’t control your life, love, future, past, but you can choose what you put, or not, in your mouth.”
Anna’s disorder is complicated and clearly is a result of a traumatic past that she is reluctant to acknowledge. Each day is a struggle that Anna must force herself to get through. While living in the home at 17 Swann Street, she is forced to eat three meals a day with snacks in between, which is a huge challenge for her. For someone like Anna, eating is not a pleasant experience. It is a battle against the voices in her head that tell her that she shouldn’t be eating these things. To eat the foods that she is being forced to eat is like dismantling the only control she has in her life.
This book is by far one of my favorites that I’ve read this year. Although it is a short book and is relatively easy to read, it’s emotionally difficult. I found myself tearing up throughout most of its short chapters as I was becoming more and more attached to Anna’s character.
How can I give this book anything but 5 stars? This book is beautiful and heartbreaking. I felt so connected to Anna through the author’s powerful writing. “The Girls at 17 Swann Street” is an excellent read, but be sure to have the tissues handy!