So I really enjoyed my latest read! It’s called More than You can Chew. It’s a young adult novel about Marty, a fifteen year old girl at a residential treatment unit for people with eating disorders. Marty is the perfect name for her because she’s like a tomboy with a big mouth! Very blunt and extremely hilarious with a very sarcastic sense of humor that follows her into all interactions trying the patience of all the staff.
Marty arrives at the center after two years of anorexic and bulimic behavior. Her background is from a very lonely family life where her mother is a chronic alcoholic and her father a distant business man. They got divorced when she was five and Marty has had very rocky relationships with both of them. She developed her wicked sense of humor and emotional walls due to these issues as a way to keep people from knowing how she really feels. Because she has the message deeply ingrained in her whole being that all people leave her in the end.
She has a tumultuous relationship with a guy named Zack. It’s unclear whether Zack was abusive to her or not. He did express frustration about having to come to her rescue during the two years of her illness around trying to get her to eat/ not purge and so on.
She also had a best friend named Cherri, however like her boyfriend and family her isolation and defensiveness made the friendship unhealthy.
So comes to Silver Lake institute in June. She ends up staying eight months with a one month break in the middle due to a severe suicide attempt and stay in the psych unit. What makes this book so engaging is Marty’s character and how she tries to stay several steps ahead of the nurse’s, therapist’s, and psychiatrist’s questions/ attempts to get her to open up. She relates the daily events of meals, group therapy, individual therapy, building relationships with other clients, and interactions with her parents with a lot of put on detachment (pretending she doesn’t care when she really does.) Only in her internal dialogue, which is the only way toget any read on how she’s really feeling do we glimpse the level of deep pain and emotions hiden behind the huge façade. She keeps up these defenses using humor and sarcasim. The best relationships she has with staff are with the ones who in a way learn to speak her language, in that they match her in their sense of humor and play her game as a way of building trust with them. In times she truly does want to share more of herself with them as she gives them credit for being able to be on her level which can be quite exhausting at the same time you can see how terrified she is to even admit to herself much less outloud the well of emotions inside.
There are times her vulnerability and caring really shine through. Particularly around an eight year old patient (yes not a typo an actual eight year old girl with an eating disorder). Her name is Lily. Marty arms to her right away and uses her straight to the point and humorous attitude to draw Lily out. A touching scene in the book is when Marty teaches Lily how to swim. In all interactions with this sweet and fragile, both emotionally and physically, child Marty shows her enormous heart and truly caring vulnerable nature hidden behind the jokes and deflections.
It’s no surprise though that as Marty is so busy trying to outsmart all the staff, and warding off any surges of emotion that do come up to overwhelm her she makes very little if any progress. She just is unable to face her issues. Nothing seems to be able to help her to really open up.
So over the Christmas holiday everything with her family comes to a head. Her parents usual dynamics and unhealthy ways of relating to her really hit home, and the tragic loss of Lily breaks Marty’s heart. She makes a severe suicide attempt.
The next month she is in the psych unit. One of those lay there and stare at the ceeling places. She does however write in a journal that her psychiatrist had given her at the beginning of her time at the eating disorder unit. He said to please “talk to the book” since she wouldn’t talk to him. It’s at this time as she’s slowly physically/ emotionally coming back to life that she writes in the journal and is most vulnerable. A very seriousphysical illness puts her face to face with a situation where she desperately needs physical/ emotional help to get through it and can’t use her wits anymore. It’s just an ear infection by the way. But the psych ward staff do a horrible job of even pretending they want to help her, so the nurse that Marty considered the hardest one to deal with goes out of her way to help her. Marty forms a true connection with her and promises to be more honest.
The book really doesn’t go into the time after that. It does but not as much as I would have liked. For example at her first group therapy session after she came back when the nurse said she had to tell the truth when she does the others cry, but some are still extremely angry at her for the suicide attempt. It surely brought up a lot of feelings of their own, and as the nurse pointed out no one even suspected it. Marty was always talking back and acting like she was ahead of the game no one had a clue to what was going on. So when she’s finished no one has anything to say and the group therapists just lets them walk out. This is not at all a realistic description of group therapy I can say that.
It doesn’t go at all into her therapy sessions with her therapist or psychiatrist, who by this point she had built a bond with, however it would have been extremely good to see what she revealed to them about how her eating disorder started and all the feelings that were trapped inside. By the end of the book her father was out of her life as was the boyfriend. She somehow reconnected with Cherri. Her mother finally got it together and the two formed a new tentative connection. This felt realistic to me as I’ve dealt with an alcoholic parent and know the ups and downs of that and what it means to try and start things off fresh. Marty returns to the unit from her psych ward stay at the end of January and left the eating disorder unit on February 9th which is an extremely speedy and unrealistic recovery.
Over all I really did enjoy the book and felt a connection with this blunt on the outside, so caring and vulnerable girl on the inside who is trying so hard to protect herself emotionally that it almost killed her. I didn’t like the ending as I thought it should have explored more of her true recovery after she finally dropped the façade. But it is clear there’s much work that she’ll do emotionally as well as her mom in order to maintain her recovery which is true to any mental illness. As I said I’d recommend this book. I’d love to hear comments from anyone who has dealt with an eating disorder, or experienced something similar as in residential treatment. Or just anyone that can identify with Marty’s personality of trying to hide behind a detached sense of humor. I’ve done this plenty of times. It takes work on both our parts for me to really connect deeply with a therapist or other professional.
I look forward to what people have to say.