Tuesday, July 9, 2013

A Trick of the Light

By Lois Metzger
Balzer + Bray, 2013
196 p.      YA

A Trick of the Light is a disturbing, but ultimately redemptive, look at the debilitating condition of anorexia. Not through the eyes at a teenage girl but through the eyes of a teenage boy. The author, Lois Metzger, says that 10 percent of the cases of anorexia are boys, although it is usually girls that are portrayed in fiction. 

Mike is a seemingly typical teenage boy, good at school and good at baseball, with one really good friend and lots of casual friends as well. However, when his parent's marriage falls apart, his security begins to crumble. He begins to hear a voice in his head telling him how to be in control and how to create a "new" Mike. The voice becomes the narrator of the story just as it becomes the narrator of Mike's life--calling all the shots, as it were. Mike becomes drawn to a strange classmate, Amber, who seems to have it all together. She teaches Mike how to control his eating, and the narrative voice tells him how to control his behavior. Both of these influences, one internal and the other external, succeed in pushing Mike until he ends up in a treatment center for anorexic teenagers. It is only then that he is able to get some perspective and find ways to mature and move forward.

Reviewers have called A Trick of the Light "raw" and "honest." It is that and more. The teenage reader will see people he/she knows in the cast of characters and some teenagers will see themselves in the tormented portrayals of Mike and Amber. Teenagers often think that they are the "only ones" who have angry, or anxious, or distressful thoughts. It will be comforting to some teenagers to know that through therapy Mike is able to move beyond his distress and find his balance again. 

The author, Lois Metzger, mentions in an interview that she felt compelled to deal with anorexia very carefully and not glamorize it in any way. She says:  "There was something I was aware of the entire time I was writing A Trick of the Light (over what turned out to be almost ten years) -- a whole culture out there that glamorizes anorexia, complete with web sites that proudly call themselves "pro-Ana."  One of my characters, Amber, is someone who sees anorexia as "a lifestyle, a choice" and not a disease.  Writing Amber was tricky.  I didn't want her to be a "trigger" (something that sets off an eating disorder in people).  I wanted readers to find her sad and lost, certainly not a role model.  I omitted particular details about anorexia for fear that readers would copy them.  That balancing act was the hardest thing -- being true to Amber as a character and letting her be herself, while not making anything she does appear desirable."

I am not sure who the ideal audience will be for this book. My husband thought that the book was about gay teenagers. And frankly, when the book arrived and I looked at the cover, I thought so too. I envisioned a boy at the school library or the local bookstore, picking up the book and looking at the picture and putting it back down again. Or buying it thinking it was about being homosexual. It takes a lot of looking to realize that the cover is about body image. Once you know, you say, "Oh, yeah. Of course."  It would take a skilled librarian to put this book into the hands of the appropriate reader. But then, of course, there are always readers who love "problem fiction," and this is an ideal book for that market as well.

Lois Metzger's website:

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