book review: Empty by KM Walton

I just finished reading a young adult novel that touches on several emotional problems faced by so many and the tragic results of feeling like there’s no one to turn to.

17 year old Dell is caught in an overwhelming flood of issues. For one she’s extremely overweight. In her childhood she was thin and athletic. But since her father left two years ago her only comfort has been in eating large amounts of food. To try and soften/ deflect the blows of constant bullying from peers and even strangers, she uses humor to get through what must be incredibly hurtful moments. Her signature trick is acting out a combination of a sumo wrestler and a cow. She gets into a sumo wrestler pose and moos loudly. This makes everyone laugh and the comedy makes it feel less painful or so she says.

In reality each hurtful comment or disgusted look cuts her inside more and more. She eventually is cut from the softball team where she thought she had friends. In truth they wanted nothing to do with her and continued to make fun of her for her being cut due to no longer being able to manage physically.

She tries to connect with her one friend Cara, but Cara is turning more and more towards good looking popular girls and goes between making fun of her to save face in the group, and acting somewhat supportive. Cara feels that if Dell just bought better clothes and put on makeup she’d feel better about herself. If she just joined in more etc.

Things at home are worse. Her father walked out on her mother and baby sister. Dell found out that he’s marrying again and is heart broken. She thought she had a father but when she wasn’t athletic or pretty anymore he turned his back on her. Her mother is lost in depression and addiction to prescription pills. She is also even more critical of Dell’s appearance at times and it seems her mother can’t have one positive/ loving interaction with her. To hear Dell talk about how her mother used to tuck her in bed at night, play games and have fun, and then to see her so lost that she can’t even parent is heartbreaking. I don’t blame the mother it’s just devastating to see the train wreck of this family and to see Dell spiral down more and more.

She tries and fails with dieting daily. At one point Cara and Dell are invited to a party. At the party everyone is incredibly drunk. In the thick of things things go horribly wrong and the star softwall player Brandon rapes Dell. She is completely traumatized. Blaming herself and knowing from the beginning with great certainty that she can’t tell anyone. Absolutely no one would believe her story and be willing to help her. It would make things worse for her mom, her dad doesn’t care, she barely has any friends. As days go by and it turns out that that an insensitive kid posted that she raped Brandon, no one questions this. She knows she’s truly alone.

Things get worse and worse, to the point where even trying for one night to display her talent in singing, and not just be the fat girl turns into a disaster.

At the end of her rope Dell makes a decision that she knows will fix everything. End her own endless depression and make life better for her family.

The shocking conclusion to this book almost made me cry.

Dell’s story doesn’t have a happy ending. Though I waited page by page for it too. I waited for someone to notice that things are wrong. A girl does bring Dell’s situation to an ineffective and awkward guidance counselor. Which is no solution. Dell is drawn at times by her sister’s day care provider’s kindness to just let everything out, but the damage of these years of emotional abuse make it imposible. Dell’s is the story of so many teens who are bullied for physical or emotional reasons. Her story reminds me so much of the stories I read on forums where young people are totally walled in all sides by insurmountable problems. Often their own parents who as a teen you need consent from to even reach out for help, make things imposible by denying a problem or blaming the children. Or in Dell’s case so lost in their own addiction/ mental illness ETC that on top of it all the teen has to parent themselves/ siblings.

I loved how this book was written and feel it sends a very strong message about bullying, depression, what it means to be overweight in a world that so values appearance, and suicide.

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