Thin Girls by Diana Clarke
Published by Harper
Publication date: June 30, 2020
Genres: Book Clubs, Coming-of-age, Debut, Fiction, Literary
The opening pages of Thin Girls take place in a treatment facility for people with anorexia. The key protagonist, Rose is sharing her thoughts on group therapy and they fairly crackle off the page with intelligence and sharp, incisive humor. She is 23 and has been at the facility for over a year, something she sees as a badge of honor. The only visitor she has is her identical twin sister, Lily. They are preternaturally close, except the one instance where they are opposites. For every food Rose won’t eat, Lily eats for her. This unspoken, unsettling behavior is just one of the many explored in the girls’ lives together and apart.
By the time they enter high school, although Lily and Rose look exactly alike, their personalities are vastly different. Lily is fun and outgoing while Rose is smart, observant and probably somewhere on the spectrum in her awkwardness with social encounters and verbal literality.
Another reason I made people so uncomfortable was because I was not quite Lily. So like her in so many ways, but not quite her. I was her stunt double, her stand-in, her understudy. People looked at me and saw almost Lily…
It’s only when Rose catches the eye of a popular mean girl, Jemima, who was Lily’s friend, that the airtight bond between the sisters begins to leak. Jemima is pretty, thin, and obsessed with all things superficial. When Rose realizes she can attract Jemima’s friendship by adhering to wild diet regimens she begins her descent into destructive weight loss. What is more alarming, though, is that it goes beyond getting attention from another girl. Rose’s identity is warped in a way that makes weight the best conduit to achieve what she wants to be. Gone.
I didn’t want to diet; I wanted to starve. I didn’t want to be like Lily anymore. I wanted to unrecognizable. To disappear. The truth was, if I were to evaporate into nothing, I would still exist. The better, sweeter, kinder version of me. Without me getting in the way, Lily could be both of us.
While Rose is the main focus of Thin Girls, Lily has her own set of issues. The overeating may have been started to hide Rose’s lack of eating from their parents, but it continues well past the point of their living at home. Just as Rose wants to be emptied, Lily wants to be filled. This manifests itself in food and a deep need to always be in a relationship. Coupled with her poor choices, it means Lily moves from one abusive man to the next.
Weight is not the only path Clarke follows in the novel. There is the largely unknowable and mysterious relationship between twins, as evidenced by Lily and Rose being able to taste the other’s emotions on their own tongue (sadness is a winter plum). That there can be two separate bodies joined in the most elemental way. So very alike, but with the possibility of mental and emotional differences. There is also the always fraught relationship between young girls—the pressure to conform. Clarke does the heavy lifting on all of these subjects with intense, thoughtful writing. There is no sense of anything being dashed off for maximum impact.
I realize for some, the question of why read something so grim comes up. Especially now when fun reading is often a much-needed distraction. Sometimes going deep on a foreign subject is an antidote for me. Reading about people, places, and topics I know nothing about expands my mind, making me feel less alone. Thin Girls may be disquieting reading with a number of creepy plot points, but it is engrossing and gives plenty of food for thought.
If this is a subject you want to learn more about I’d highly recommend The Time in Between: A Memoir of Hunger and Hope by Nancy Tucker. As nonfiction, it could be even more triggering for anyone with food issues so please keep that in mind. I found it disturbing, but important reading.
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