Title: Hunger
Author: Jackie Morse Kessler
ISBN: 9780547341248
Pages: 177 pages
Publisher/Date: Graphia, an imprint of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, c2010.

Lisabeth Lewis didn’t mean to become Famine. She had a love affair with food, and she’d never liked horses (never mind the time she asked for a pony when she was eight; that was just a girl thing). If she’d been asked which Horseman of the Apocalypse she would most likely be, she would have probably replied, “War.” And if you’d heard her and her boyfriend, James, fighting, you would have agreed. Lisa wasn’t a Famine person, despite her eating disorder.
And yet there she was, Lisabeth Lewis, seventeen and no longer thinking about killing herself, holding the Scales of office. Famine, apparently, had scales–an old-fashioned balancing device made of brass or bronze or some other metal. What she was supposed to do with the Scales, she had no idea. Then again, the whole “Thou art the Black Rider; go thee out unto the world” thing hadn’t really sunk in yet. (1)

After a failed suicide attempt, Lisa is visited by Death and recruited to become the new Famine. Lisa’s not so sure about this new role, at first thinking it was all a dream. It’s a little difficult though to continue to ignore the horse in the front yard, waiting for her rider, or the call of power that begs Lisa to eat. When Lisa realizes the results of her actions, she’s appalled. But can she really fight the need to feed?

Cool cover and premise for a story that I felt ultimately was a big morality tale. Don’t get me wrong, there are things that I liked about this story. Lisa’s friends show genuine concern about her anorexia, and they don’t let it slide or just simply not talk about it after broaching the subject with her. I liked Lisa’s ultimate mastery of her powers, and her initial trepidation and disbelief of her position make her reaction more realistic. I understand the need for books about eating disorders for teens, I really do. But I don’t think this one is really the best of the bunch. By the end of the novel, I thought Kessler had really over played her hand, and it felt like an extended chastising by a parent. “You should be eating your food because there are starving people all over the world who are dying to eat your food.” And what it is about anorexic and bulimic¬†people pairing up? First in Wintergirls, now in Hunger? Is this a trend or a coincidence?

However, I’m not against giving credit where credit is due. While I have never suffered from an eating disorder, I think this is the most graphic and accurate description of a bulimic purge that I’ve read so far. Kessler is just as unflinching when addressing the ravages of hunger. Here’s an example, and there’s more where that came from:

Tammy, oblivious to her body’s reactions, reached down, heaved. A large mass of solid food flooded out her mouth. Both of her hands grasped the bowl as her body rippled with spasms. Chips and cupcakes and chocolate splattered in the toilet. Brown globs splashed up and sprayed Tammy’s face, flicking against her lashes. She flushed again, wiping her eyelids and nose.” (110)

It sounds like this might become a series, with a second book focused on the rider War in the works according to the back cover. We’ll have to see how the series pans out, and if all of the books will be as moralistic. I do think some readers might respond to the fantasy element added to a very real disease.