In “The Girls at 17 Swann Street” we meet 26 year old Anna, a previous ballet dancer who is suffering from an eating disorder that has taken over her life. Not only is her health suffering, but so is her three year marriage to her soulmate, Matthias.
“I tell people that I am a dancer. I have not danced in years, though. I work as a cashier in a supermarket, but my real occupation is anorexia.” Anna often refers to herself as “ [A girl] with an old woman’s face and a child’s body.” She feels like she is in her sixties, rather than a vibrant young woman. She consumes apples and some popcorn on a GOOD day. She is 88 pounds and in danger of dying.
If you like character driven novels that make you feel deep down into the very bottom of your gut, then this is DEFINITELY the book for you. It seemed like I was the one being forced to eat a giant bowl of pasta covered in sauce and cheese after I had just suffered from a stomach bug. I found myself cringing trying to picture the gobs and gobs of cream cheese piled high on that carb-filled bagel and was shaking my head thinking that no way I could do it—and I’m healthy! To me...Anna, Julia, Emm, Valerie, and even “no-name” Direct Care were not just works of fiction, they were my roommates. I was in this for the long haul with them. Yara Zgheib’s words hurt; they caused real tears. This is not something that an author has been able to accomplish in quite some time for me, I’m a pretty hard egg to crack, but I was absolutely broken in so many parts of this book.
I have had a love/hate relationship with food since I was little. I am an emotional eater, a probable undiagnosed obsessive compulsive over-eater in fact. I can find common ground in reading about those suffering from eating disorders; I can relate to the grief that they feel. While I do not purge after bingeing, I have had the urge to do so in earlier years. I am on the opposite spectrum of Anna, thus I can’t even fathom how anyone can purposely starve themselves...but this disease is oh-so-real. SO real, in fact, that death feels like an escape.
I can understand Annas theory where if you forget what something tastes like, it becomes hard to miss it. I’ve DONE all the “diets”, tried all of the fads. But....dear GOD if you cheat and taste that little piece of heaven that you’ve been depriving yourself of again, it’s near impossible to stop. As Julia said, “ Pizza, ice cream, milkshakes, fries—they’re reliable friends.”
I remember writing many research papers for both high school and college regarding both bulimia and anorexia, I’ve read quite the collection of nervosa books including one of my favorites by Portia de Rossi, “ Unbearable Lightness”, and I was captivated with the movie “Black Swan,” starring Natalie Portman. Throughout all of these i have never felt more connected to the actual process of intake. I did not recall that an anorexic could actually go into shock from food ( refeeding syndrome). I have never even heard of hungry brain syndrome before. These things are frightening, unbearable to imagine, let alone experience. At 17 Swann Street you GOING to experience the ugly.
What I wanted more of from this book was more information about Anna’s accident on stage, and more family background including her brothers passing. I would have also liked to delve even deeper into Anna’s previous emotionally abusive relationship with Philippe.
What I loved the most about this story is the comraderie between the girls. They refuse to let each other fail. It’s so easy to look the other way, to focus only on your own well-being, but the Swann girls—they stick together! Whether using intimidation ...“Put it on Or I will MAKE you...” or occupying their minds with horoscopes, The Olympics or favorite TV shows, they make it through each obstacle as a team. The goal is that no one gets left behind, But no one fights the same demons and one day the voices inside any one of them might be the very last straw...
Brilliantly written. Emotionally charged. Deserving of Beyond 5 stars !
Thank you to NetGalley & to St. Martins Press for allowing me to read this early e-arc. All opinions are my own. The book is available as of February 5th, and you won’t be sorry that you read it.