Title: Sad Perfect
Author: Stephanie Elliot
Published in: 2017
Genres: contemporary fiction, realistic fiction, mental health/mental illness, romance
“The story of a teen girl’s struggle with Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder and how love helps her on the road to recovery.
Sixteen-year-old Pea looks normal, but she has a secret: she has Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID). It is like having a monster inside of her, one that not only dictates what she can eat, but also causes anxiety, depression, and thoughts that she doesn’t want to have. When she falls crazy-mad in love with Ben, she hides her disorder from him, pretending that she’s fine. At first, everything really does feel like it’s getting better with him around, so she stops taking her anxiety and depression medication. And that’s when the monster really takes over her life. Just as everything seems lost and hopeless, Pea finds in her family, and in Ben, the support and strength she needs to learn that her eating disorder doesn’t have to control her.”
Pea has always been a picky eater. For all she can remember, she has only eaten a few types of foods, her “safe” foods. To her, food isn’t appealing and she never looks forward to eating. But she knows it’s more than just being a picky eater. She knows she has an eating disorder and it’s been getting worse. She has a monster inside of her that controls her and causes anxiety and depression. One day she meets Ben and they quickly fall in love. She tries to keep the monster at bay, but the monster’s not going to give up that easily. When she starts cutting and ends up in a psychiatric hospital, she must figure out what she wants. Ultimately, she realizes that there’s never been a monster and that she doesn’t have to be controlled by her eating disorder.
Pea has AFRID, which stands for Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder. She eats very few types of foods, foods that are “safe.” Other foods, ones that are not “safe,” she avoids. Trying these foods or even thinking about tasting them causes her to panic. She feels like she has a monster inside of her. This monster tells her what to think, what to feel, what to say, what to eat, and what to do. It has complete control over her and she doesn’t know how to get rid of it. To treat her eating disorder, Pea starts going to one on one therapy with her therapist, Shayna, and group therapy afterwards with other girls with eating disorders at Healthy Foundations.
Early on in the book, Pea meets Ben at her best friend, Jae’s, birthday party. They start going out and soon fall in love. Pea wants to tell Ben about her eating disorder and the monster inside of her, but isn’t sure how. She ends up telling him about having ARFID when she’s invited over to his house for a family barbecue.
One day, when Ben comes over, the monster takes control of her and she pushes Ben away and asks him to leave. After he leaves, she picks up a safety pin and starts cutting herself with it. From then on, she uses it as a “coping” method. When she returns to school after Labor Day weekend, she finds out that someone sent in an anonymous email saying that she might be harming herself. Her parents, convinced that she’s suicidal, agree to admit her to a psychiatric hospital for a few days.
There, at St. Joe’s, she’s stuck following the strict rules if she wants to be released. The nurses and the director are all harsh and seem to be against her from the start, except one, Damian. The only good thing is her roommate and a few of the other patients. On her fourth day there, her parents and Shayna come in for an assessment meeting and she, along with Shayna and Damian, is surprised that they think she should be kept for four more days. She’s even more surprised that her parents agreed. Afterwards, already upset from being kept there for four more days, she physically attacks a boy for stealing a letter from her boyfriend, which gets her put in solitary confinement. The following day, her parents come to visit her and are angry and horrified with the conditions she’s been placed in and how she’s been treated. They immediately take her out of there and bring her home.
After she gets home, she decides she wants to work hard at getting better because she never wants to return there again. She realizes only she can do it. Her parents can’t nor can any doctors or therapists. A few days later, she comes to the conclusion that there isn’t a monster and there never was. In the end, she learns that her eating disorder doesn’t have to control her.
I don’t know anything about psychiatric hospitals or what they’re like in real life, but I was horrified at how Pea was treated when she stayed at St. Joe’s. They treated her like she was a criminal or something, not someone who’s mentally ill. As I was reading, I was thinking that’s not how you treat someone with a mental illness and that’s not how a mental illness is treated. I don’t know if that was a realistic portrayal of a stay in a psychiatric hospital or not. I’m hoping a psychiatric hospital isn’t really like that, but I don’t know what they’re like in real life.
I thought Sad Perfect was a realistic and accurate portrayal of someone with an eating disorder and anxiety, as I expected it to be since it’s inspired/loosely based on the author’s daughter’s experience with ARFID. I absolutely loved Sad Perfect. I recommend it if you’re looking for a contemporary and realistic novel about eating disorders or mental illness.
Rating: 5/5 Stars