Katrina Kittle takes on big issues in her novels. I've blogged about her previous book The Blessings of the Animals, tackling grief and healing post divorce. Her three prior novels dealt with AIDS, child abuse, and deceit. Reasons to Be Happy is her first book for younger readers and I wondered if she would stay true to her big issue pattern. I was not disappointed. Addiction, in the form of bulimia, is the core of this story but it is beautifully and skillfully imbedded in a tale of conflict with parents, dealing with mean girls and peer pressure, first love, and staying true to one's self. So how do these serious issues end up being such an engaging and uplifting book?
Well, the main character, 8th grader Hannah, kept a list in a purple journal of her Reasons to Be Happy. This list gives us insight into Hannah before she changed schools, before her mother became sick, before she lost bits of herself to peer pressure. By the end of the book, she has traveled full circle back to herself. Along the way she meets a young man passionate about music and secure in himself, orphans in Ghana who teach her about what matters, and artists young and old dedicated to their craft. Each meeting reminds her of parts of herself that she has abandoned and gradually reclaims.
We are a culture that reveres thin. Pressure to be thin begins young and continues... forever. We are so concerned with "outside" that often who we are is lost. It is all about how we look. It is heartbreaking to realize how objectified women are. And it's not just the males who are doing this. We do it to ourselves. How many catty remarks do women make about other women's weight? How much time is wasted worrying about how much we weigh? What if we devoted that time to creative pursuits? What could we accomplish? What problems could be solved? The basic fear is... Am I good enough? We are looking for validation outside our selves.
Addiction is about numbing pain, tamping down fear. The market is saturated with books, television shows, and magazine articles proposing that food is often the legal "drug" used to achieve this. It seems the more we focus on losing weight, the heavier we are all becoming. I'd so love it if we could accept and value each person for who she, or he, is. Unconditional love and acceptance, now there would be a wonderful reason to be happy.