by: Peta-Gaye Nash
As a resident of Mississauga, it’s so cool to open a book and find it’s partially set in my city except that the main character calls it Misery Saga (hmm – I thought Mississauga was a pretty cool place to live but I’ll forgive her: she’s a teenager). What’s even cooler is that each chapter in Mona Awad’s award winning debut novel, 13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl could be a stand alone story with each chapter viewing the topics of weight and self esteem from 13 different perspectives, much like an image viewed from 13 different camera lenses.
13 Ways is thirteen chapters of the raw and the real. At times, I cringed and thought: I didn’t just read that. The characters are not going to go up to a table of men and do that! But it sure kept me reading.
Awad is fearless in her writing as her character Lizzie, Beth, Elizabeth, Liz (she keeps changing her name throughout the story) navigates life as an obese teenager and then as a weight obsessed woman who buys tight dresses she can barely fit into and whose preoccupation with food, weight, shopping and clothes makes her life seem like she’s always perched on the edge of a cliff. Is she going to fall?
Awad tackles issues of weight and how easy it is to be influenced by our weight-obsessed culture, along with friendship, love, marriage, shopping and food in a way that is funny yet painfully true. 13 Ways is not one of these breezy novels where the reader follows the lovable main character to her triumphant end. Not even close. We are sometimes shocked by Lizzie’s behaviour and appalled at the depth of her hatred but we’re still rooting for her, even as she falls into despair. Who hasn’t stepped on a scale after months of going to the gym only to see the damn needle go up or remain the same and think, “Screw it! I’m going to eat whatever I want.”
Awad has also struggled with her own issues of weight and dieting, and she gets this coming of age story right in every way. It’s not surprising then that 13 Ways won the Amazon.com First Novel Award and was shortlisted for the Scotiabank Giller Prize. I look forward to many more novels from this up and coming Canadian writer.