Content warning: the following blog post contains a review of a graphic novel that includes depictions of disordered eating.
I'll be honest: I didn't have any context other than, "oooh, pretty cover!" when I requested an ARC of Hungry Ghost by Victoria Ying via NetGalley. It features what appears to be a young girl, heartbreak written all over her face, with flowers bursting through her visible ribs and torso.
It was so much deeper than I expected.
Hungry Ghost's main character is Valerie, a high school senior who, from the outside looking in, has it all: she's the smartest girl in class, her mom is a fantastic cook, and her dad is an adventurer. She has a best friend, and a crush, and all the things you'd expect from a teenaged girl: including that self-loathing that you may remember experiencing yourself because being a teenager is hard. What Val's friends (and most of her family) don't realize is that her mother's pressure and unrealistic expectations about Val's weight have led her to bulimia. Val can never see herself as good enough, or worthy, or thin enough, and purges, in secret, what calories she does consume.
This graphic novel was haunting, but important. It's important because it underlines that the things adults say to children matter, often more than we realize. It's important because it shows that those closest to you may be dealing with things you'd never realize. It's important because it forces the reader to remember that you are not your weight--that your weight is not you. Even when tragedy strikes, Val is still so focused on her weight that she doesn't allow herself to properly cope, and she lashes out at her friends as a result--friends who have no idea what she's going through. This book is a reminder to check on the ones who seem okay, because sometimes, they aren't. It was incredibly well written and moving, and I cannot wait to share it with my thirteen year old nieces. I want to have more conversations with them about how their bodies are perfect just how they are, and as long as they are mindful of their health (because let's be real, we also have to encourage kids to eat their veggies--life can't be cake 100% of the time), that the numbers on the scale do not matter as much as society would have you think.
On top of the story, the illustration in this book was absolutely stunning. It was somehow equal parts simple yet so detailed and the color scheme fit the scenes flawlessly.
One last thing that I appreciate so much in books: Hungry Ghost starts with a content warning, and ends with resources for anyone who is struggling with, or wants to support someone struggling with, an eating disorder.
This story was an honor to read. Thank you, Victoria Ying, First Second Books, and NetGalley.
Preorder your copy here before Hungry Ghost releases on April 25.
Love and reminders that we're all in this together,
Disclaimer: This one will be different from the rest. I received an advanced copy of this book from the publisher for free and have voluntarily written this review with my honest feedback. If you purchase a copy of Hungry Ghost using my Amazon affiliate link above, I will receive a small commission from Amazon which I will in turn donate to National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA).