Perfect by Natasha Friend (2004)

perfectThis book about a girl’s struggle with bulimia is realistic but not too mature, making it a good choice for middle schoolers of all ages.

Recommended grade level: 6-9

Pages: 172 (for ISBN 9781571316516)

Genre(s) and keywords: realistic fiction

Tone/Style: depressed

Pace: moderate to fast

Topics: bulimia, therapy groups, loss of a parent, parents with mental illness, friends who are negative influences

Themes: grief and loss,  unhealthy coping, siblings, parent/child relationships, family

Summary: Isabelle Lee is a typical, wisecracking, middle-of-the-pack girl who happens to be dealing with some big issues. Her father has died and no one—especially her mother—wants to talk about it. Meanwhile, Isabelle’s sister, who used to be nine and charming, has ruined everything by ratting Isabelle out to their mom about her eating disorder. Isabelle can’t bribe her to stay quiet and ends up in Eating Disorder and Body Image Therapy Group. Trapped in a room with no air circulation and orange carpet that smells like Cheez-Its, Isabelle is amazed when Ashley Barnum, the prettiest, most popular girl in school walks through the door. In a world where appearances are all that matter, coping takes some interesting and potentially harmful turns. (Source)

Who will like this book?: This is a great choice for girls who want to venture into YA but are a bit young, or are concerned or have parents who are concerned about mature content. I like to recommend this to middle schoolers who are interested in sadder or more serious topics. It could also be great for those who have a mental illness or a friend with mental illness, if you happen to be privy to that knowledge about them.

Who won’t like this book?: This isn’t the best choice for readers who prefer to use books to escape the problems of the real world. Isabelle experiences her bulimia through a decidedly female lens, so there is limited appeal for boys.

Other comments: Natasha Friend does a great job writing books that deal with big topics in ways that middle schoolers can relate to. Too often, the books about issues like mental illness in teens fall firmly into the YA camp and may have content that prevents some middle schoolers from reading them or relating to them. But middle schoolers are dealing with these issues too, and deserve to have that reflected in literature for them. Friend’s books do not dumb down or sanitize the issues, but avoid high school issues and mature content.


Readalikes: There have been more middle grade and young teen books about mental illness lately, which is an awesome development in publishing.  Bounce, Lush, and Where You’ll Find Me are other Natasha Friend titles with similarly serious topics. Try Cut by Patricia McCormick, Finding Audrey by Sophie Kinsella (both recommended for grades 7 and up) and OCDaniel by Wesley King for more books about mentally ill young teens. Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson is probably the most beloved YA eating disorder book, and a great suggestion for grades 8 and up. For a story about the body ideals from an entirely different angle, try the dystopian Uglies by Kenneth Oppel.


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