A sizeable battle

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 20 April, 2003, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 20 April, 2003, 12:00am

THERE IS NO shortage of books about girly problems on bookshop shelves. The world of female teenage anxiety is a rich source of inspiration for writers. But funny, moving stories with strong believable characters and gripping plot lines revolving around the anxiety of body images are not so readily available.

With Massive, Julia Bell has written a kind and emotional comedy-drama about a 14-year-old girl's life that is weighed down by the question of body fat and what to do about it. Massive is all about the battle between food and the weight scales and everything that comes in between.

Carmen has listed toast, orange juice, tea and mineral water in her diary for today. No lunch. No snacks. Weight and body image have been issues in Carmen's life for as long as she can remember. She would love to let her body do just what it wants, but she can't. Teenage girls need food and nourishment, and the wicked witch who is always telling her what not to eat is her own mother.

Carmen's mother is obsessed by the idea that being thin means being happy, beautiful and successful. Where have we all heard that one before? It is an empty idea that is thrown at us daily by the media: fat is ugly and will stop you achieving anything worthwhile in life, and to get anything worth having in today's image-conscious world, you have to be thin. There are no half-measures for Carmen's power-driven mum. She is as thin as a stick insect and she is determined her growing daughter is going to be the same.

Mum seems to know exactly what is best for her daughter, but Carmen is now starting to question mum's ideals. Let battle commence! Poor Carmen does not have a chance. She has a list of failed diets behind her and secret hiding places all over the house where she stores chocolate bars and biscuits. The more her mother goes on about weight, the more Carmen runs for comfort in forbidden food. Mum cannot understand why her daughter does not lose weight. She does not know about the pile of chocolate bar wrappers under Carmen's bed.

Massive is an entertaining, bittersweet novel about the power battle between mother and daughter, and fat and thin. It is funny, shocking and thought-provoking. Both Carmen and her mum-from-dieting-hell are so alive and believable that you feel for both of them as they spiral deeper into personal traps. Massive is an entertaining and honest portrait of a young girl as she learns the truth about her own values and those of the world around her.


By Julia Bell

Published by Young Picador/Pan Macmillan

ISBN 0 330 41547 6

John Millen can be contacted on MillenBookshelf@aol.com.