Judi Leibowitz is miserable because she thinks she’s really, really fat, in this contemporary middle school book. At age thirteen, she’s 5’4″ and weighs 127 pounds, when Seventeen Magazine says she should weigh 120 pounds. No wonder her life sucks and she doesn’t have a boyfriend. If only she could look like Nancy Pratt, all skinny and tan and blonde. Everyone knows guys only like skinny girls.
Judi’s English teacher, Mrs. Roth, gives notebooks to her students and asks them to keep a diary all semester. Mrs. Roth is smart and nice, but she’s REALLY FAT. Judi wonders who ever wanted to marry her–she doesn’t even follow Seventeen magazine’s tips for fat girls, like only wear dark clothes.
Every chapter is an entry in Judi’s diary, as she thinks about what kind of career she’d like to have, tries to get dreamboat Richard Weiss to notice her, and most of all struggles to stick to a diet. No matter how hard she tries, she ends up overeating and the weight won’t come off.
But then she learns skinny Nancy Pratt’s secret to staying thin. Judi overhears her throwing up in the school bathroom and they end up talking. At first when Nancy explains how she makes herself vomit, Judi thinks it’s gross. A few days later, though, when Judi’s mother insists that she eat her whole dinner, she decides to try Nancy’s trick. Now she has a secret weapon.
But the secret weapon turns out to be a two-edged sword.
This book for middle schoolers is an entertaining and heartfelt look at a serious subject. Judi’s voice is authentic and girls will relate easily to her. The diary format (usually not a favorite of mine) works really well here and readers are shown some of the dangers of bulimia.
When I was reading this book, I felt like it could have been my diary (except for the throwing up) and not just at age thirteen. We live in a society where the loudest voices (movies, TV, magazines) tell girls and women that our only value is our looks and that we should be ultra-thin. One online article, citing several studies, states that the number one wish for girls ages 11 to 17 is to be thinner and girls as young as five have expressed fears of getting fat.
The author, Leslea Newman, has struggled with body-image issues herself, and she edited a collection of women’s writings about food called “Eating Our Hearts Out.” She was inspired to write “Fat Chance” after reading about a girl who had died and left behind a journal filled with her misery about food and weight.
Reading level: Ages 10 and up. A must-read!